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15th May 2004Myth of queuing for ammo at Isandhlwana
By Marc Jung
With all the recent excavation apparently throwing this theory out of the window, how did it come to surface in the first place? Were there any survivors of Isandhlwana who actually said they 'saw queues' of soldiers at the ammo wagons, and the Quartermasters' who apparently, could take the equivalent role of a Major in a battle (This is why so many junior officers on the field were told to forget about it when demanding ammo from the Quartermasters). Surely, if someone wanted to afford blame this was quite a vivid piece of imagination? It must have come from somewhere/one? Thanks.
16th May 2004Julian whybra
I don't particularly like pointing the finger but...Donald Morris had a lot to do with it in TWOTS. I think on a number of occasions he put 2 and 2 together and made 5 but he was working mainly from 1955-1964 and wasn't aware of a lot of what is now known. Also, of course, he was a soldier and a journalist, he wasn't a professional historian - that may account for the style and the appeal of the book but also for some of the ianccuracies and the 'filling in of gaps'. There is nothing in survivors' accounts which describes anything remotely similar to the events of the film Zulu Dawn - you get mentions, almost routinely, of men taking ammo out to the 24th. I'm not quite sure where you got the bit about 'junior officers demanding ammo' from - I don't think you're referring to Smith-Dorrien, but if you are then the incident refers specifically to a particular case which speaks volumes for the cool-headedness of the QM. There was an established procedure for issuing ammo which was working perfectly well, if S-D chose to follow it. Taking ammo from the regmtl reserve packed and ready for Chelmsford's reconnaissance was unnecessary.
16th May 2004Grant Best
"With all the recent excavation apparently throwing this theory out of the window"

In the Duke of Wellington's words; "If you believe that, you'll believe anything!".

16th May 2004David Alan Gardner
I really don't know where people get the idea there was not an ammo problem-ultimately there WAS-and then the men were slaughtered.
16th May 2004David Alan Gardner
I really don't know where people get the idea there was not an ammo problem-ultimately there WAS-and then the men were slaughtered.
16th May 2004Bill Cainan

What sources are you using that confirms that there "WAS" an ammunition problem ?

16th May 2004Marc Jung
Bill, David, Grant, Julian. Thanks for that! Bill, a lot of us see texts stating words to the effect 'had not the ammunition supply failed' sort of thing. the recent documentaries (again, if not a personal opinion, but 'real' evidence) seem to suggest 1) that the 'unbreakable square' had the men in line too far apart to be that same unbreakable square. And 2) Being further away (than previously thought, if that's to be believed also) obviously caused a problem when the Zulus got within this 'thin red line'. And of course, the ammo supply was further away from the soldiers, too. Again, if all this really IS the facts, seems logical, but we don't know if it really is the truth. Thanks again, guys. Marc.
16th May 2004David Alan Gardner
Hi Bill,

The Zulu sources Bill which I'm sure you've read eg Durnford's Last Stand.
It's also debatable re the reason for him moving out the Big Donga, whilst accepting he was also being outflanked, ammunition was also sent for, again I'm sure you are aware.

However I'm not going to be too glib here, and I'll assume what you mean is a problem supply of ammo in ref to the actual cause of defeat

Let me say I'm in no doubt that the primary reasons for the defeat were faulty disposition of the troops, which was brought about by more than a few factors including Chelmsford himself, faulty intelligence, luck , whatever.

Quite often we are told about the idea of controlled volleys being inflicted-but how controlled did they end up being?-If ammuntion was absolutely not a factor, then wouldn't it be reasonable to expect many more volleys, and with it, repulse of the attack?l

By many more volleys, I assume the casualty rate would increase to higher levels on the Zulu side.
However, mindful of a limited supply of ammunition, who is to say that the amount of volleys was strictly curtailed, by officers mindful of the difficulties of resupply to each man, mindful of distances, which were not insignificant?
I'm sorry Bill, but if you start to mention resupply procedures being adequate to deal with resupply for this scenario, then we'll have to disagree.

For my part, nothing will change my mind that resupply was A factor perhaps-not THE factor, but important nonetheless and contributing significantly to the defeat.
17th May 2004David Alan Gardner
I should have inserted "possible" replulse of the attack.
I also acknowledge there were accounts of the zulu attack "wavering"

Finally can I say I do not wish to diminish the courage shown by the Zulus on their day of victory.
17th May 2004Bill Cainan

Yes, I’m aware of the Zulu sources in so far as they relate to Durnford. You will no doubt recall the recent discussion on this site as to the likely location of Durnford’s ammunition wagon. There is no doubt that if you don’t know where your ammunition reserves are then re-supply does becomes a problem !

However, what I was after were the sources you might have that relate to any failure of the re-supply to the 24th’s Companies. The fact that the Zulu chest was effectively pinned in dead ground up until the time that the Companies were ordered to withdraw points both to the effectiveness of the Martin-Henry AND the adequate re-supply of ammunition. It is only after the Zulus have turned the flanks and have either overrun the ammunition wagons or interjected themselves between the Companies and their ammunition wagons that re-supply becomes a problem.

Although the ammunition wagons of the Companies were located possibly up to a thousand yards to the rear, arrangements could easily have been made to ensure a re-supply. As has been said before on this site, these were professional soldiers with campaign experience. The Company SNCOs would be aware of the ammunition expenditure and would have made the necessary arrangements. As well as the QMs sending ammunition out in scotch carts, it would be fairly easy to detach men to go back and get some. The image of drummers being sent to collect loose rounds is an unlikely scenario – if a drummer managed to carry two hundred rounds back to his Company this would only work out at 2 or 3 rounds per man ! However, three men can fairly easily carry two ammunition boxes, and therefore twelve men eight boxes. Eight boxes would give each private an additional 50 rounds. And, of course, this would explain why ring pull (s) have been found on the site of the firing line.

Ammunition wagons ? – I’m hoping someone might be able to furnish some detail for me. The Company Reserve Ammunition for each Company would (at 200 rounds per man) total between 30 and 35 boxes. In weight terms this is just in excess of a ton. Were the company reserves carried in Army GS wagons or Colonial Ox wagons ? Although the GS wagons were generally regarded as being unsuitable (ie not robust enough) for Zululand, I can see a case for them being used to transport ammunition. They were pulled by mules and could thus be moved a lot quicker than colonial ox wagons if the need should arise. However, on the other hand, the colonial wagon could carry considerably more weight than the GS, and you would therefore need less wagons. If GS wagons were used, then you would need one per company. At Isandlwana there would therefore have been six wagons for the companies in camp and a further six packed and ready to send out to support the companies with Chelmsford. I have seen photogrphas of mule pulled GS wagons loaded with what looks like ammunition boxes. However, does anyone have any evidence that this was in fact the case ?

17th May 2004Julian Whybra
How then do you explain the many casual mentions by survivors of seeing ammo being taken up to the line, of witnessing the workmanlike organization of the resupply, of dead men being found surrounded by cartridges, of Zulus emptying the pouches of dead soldiers, of there not being a single survivor who mentions a failure of ammo to the line or of running out of ammo, or of queueing at ammo waggons, or complaining about the ammo supply. One cannot invent a failure of ammo supply because it's convenient to do so.
Bill is quite right to ask you to name your sources to back up your argument. You have not done so. So, again, what are your PRIMARY sources, where are they, and if they're that earth-shattering, what are their accession numbers because they will be very important and I'd like copies of them. Supply me with one. J'ACCUSE!
17th May 2004Julian whybra
Bill, we've overlapped with our replies. Just a snippet - the coys would each have had coy carts for transporting ammo from the waggons to the front line - there are several survivors who witnessed these operating on the day.
17th May 2004Keith Smith
This whole question of the amount of ammunition in a wagon is most interesting. You might recall that this was a serious issue which bedevilled Lord C. concerning his ammunition reserve for the 2nd battalion when they went out across the plain. In response to a memo, Major Clery responded as follows:
"With regard to reserve ammunition, I acted in compliance with Lord Chelmsford's orders that no reserve ammunition should be taken out with the force, but that a wagon should be kept loaded in camp with ammunition and ready to follow the force that was going out, at a moments notice; all this was done."

Can we imply from this that the battalion reserve of 30 rounds per man was on only one wagon?
17th May 2004steve
allthough smith dorriens was able to,by
inference of rank ,obtain his supply of ammo,
how many others of a lesser rank may not,
being faced with a busy and concientious quatermaster,not afraid to speak his mind even to officers.....hsd.
im sure i read somewhere that one of the edendale men was refused by a 12 year old drummer boy posted at an ammo wagon.

if durnfords men had been in action for a lesser time than the men at the extreme left of the camp,and needed resupply,is it safe to assume that given the probable 70 round general issue,the men to the extreme left would have needed ressuply just as
urgently as durnford.........yet as the left continued to fire,it appears they did get more,
im only a layman but i would assume that the closer to the camp the soldiers were,the more chance of resupply their was.
finally,(i hear you cheer)in the later battles
at kambula ,ghingidlovu and ulundi,ammunition boxes were "unscrewed "and strategically placed,this was not the case at isandhlwana.
perhaps those in authority had learned the lesson well,that resupply was one of a series of deciding factors.
17th May 2004Julian Whybra
Steve, you are mistaken in some of your remarks and, if you'll forgive me, a little out of date.
1. Smith-Dorrien was a transport special service officer of the 95th Regt. He was taking ammo from a waggon specially loaded with ammo as ordered ready to be moved out to Chelmsford. There was no need to ransack this waggon and no man or officer of the 24th would have done so. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing - following the correct procedure and obtaining ammo from the regimental waggon. It's not surprising Bloomfield ticked him off.
2) The Edendale man you refer to was Sergt.-Maj Simeon Kambula who offered to put the drummer boy up behind him on his horse and escape. The boy would not do so since he had been ordered to remain at his post.
3) The 'screws' argument has been shattered a while back. There was no madcap unscrewing. A swift kick to the edge of the box's central panel, held down by one screwhead, was enough to open the box. This was the old soldier's trick. There was no delay in opening boxes. None is mentioned by anyone anywhere at Isandhlwana.
17th May 2004David Alan Gardner
Taking a pseudo scientific approach to a soldierly exercise does not always work, -and its easy to spot the soldier from the bookworm!
To make demands and throw the milk out the pram when they aren't met doesn't confer self -righteousness and infallibility

Anybody with half a military mind and imagination looking at the battlefield and quickly spot enormous problems of men with single shot rifles over a very mobile, mass army.

I'm afraid I don't buy into the idea of "dead men surrounded by cartridges" as a sweeping statement that ammunition supply was not a problem.
I mentioned Durnford, I'll mention Younghusband and his men who clearly ran out-and died when they did.

However the main problem I see is that there are some are so intent in trashing the likes of Morris and any suggestion he made of ammo problems, that they cannot contemplate the union of the words "ammo" and "supply problem" in the same sentence.

Bill makes the point of the chest being held in the dead ground -at the ideal range of the M-H.
Yes, Bill, but what of other Zulu accounts of the soldiers firing too low when range was other than ideal?
Back again to you Bill, at the dead ground to the north.Hypothetical question- if I placed an limitless pile of ammunition to the north, would the soldiers fired more or less shots??
Likewise to the soldiers facing the left Zulu flank-more unlimited ammo.More shots? More Zulu casualties?

I would suggest that Zulu caualties would certainly have been far higher.

Enough to have repulsed the Zulus?-I don't know the answer to that.I do know that had companies of the 1st and 2nd been where the ammunition was, the outcome would have been different. We hera so often about the well -ordered volleys being governed by the officers-but I as I have mentioned previously, were they so restricted that they could only ever keep the Zulus at bay for a strictly limited time-and when that time ran out it would be curtains for the British?
Surely far better to hammer them as hard as was possible-cause maximum damge in the shortest timescale.This could have been achieved with the right ammunition at the right location-ie the soldiers with the ammunition instead of being in yards measured by the thousand?
Those bullets were big-and heavy, had mass and had to be moved over distance-and they were all too quickly expended.

Please note I never said that ammo supply wasTHE cause of the failure-however it WAS a factor. Look at the battlefield, look at the distances.Ammunition supply had to be a factor.On the day, the British command under Pulleine was taken by surprise.They had no idea what they were to go up against.Failures to react quickly to rapidly changing circumstances.The battle wasn't stagnant, it was flowing, the Zulus flowed with it compared to British inflexibility.British reaction to changing events was inadequate, so flaws in getting enough ammuntion to destroy the Zulu isn't surprising -but put the soldiers to the ammo, and things would start to look different.

No ammo supply problem?-I beg to differ.

18th May 2004steve
thanks julian i think i stand corrected,but i would just say that it wasnt so much the unscrewing of boxes that i was pointing out,
it was more that the commanding officers of the subsequent battles had ammuntion placed closer to the troops involved,wouldnt this be a tacit acceptance of previous shortcomings.
on smith dorrien,surely his famous remark
"hang it all you dont want a requsition now do you" was made not because he realised he was at the wrong point of supply,but moreover
because he realised the urgency of the situation. i beleive he acted as a soldier who understood what no ammunition meant rather than a quatermasters customer.
apparantly it was simeon kambule,and he did
offer to take the boy away with him,this was i
understand just after the lad had refused to issue him with cartridges,as he had been posted there to prevent issue to any other than the 24th.both donald morris and ian knight agree on this.
i understand your point julian about a swift kick on the ammunition box,my wife does that all the time,seriously though,i dont think the problem was in opening the boxes,i feel
it was more getting the boxes to the soldiers on the line,who were some distance away.
its just that the reality must have been
more difficult than we perhaps think,you march out to the front,some distance,take up position under a boiling african sky,fire away for a couple of hours,see the incredible mass of twenty thousand zulu ,who all appear to be intent on your destruction,with no quarter expected,as the bullets wizz by,and your throat goes dry,someone then has to run
back to the ammunition wagons ,in full kit,
some three four or five hundred yards,then,
after having located your wagon,run back again,under that same sky,across broken ground ,carrying weight,back to the line.
perhaps if their are any gulf war vets who see this site,could let us know what its like running a thousand yards in full kit ,in extreme heat,carrying weapons and ammo,
im sure the comparison would be interesting.
its a great site,and an interesting debate,
best regards

18th May 2004Bill Cainan

Thank you for responding, though I must admit I don’t understand some of the points you make, perhaps you could clarify them?

1. What is the point you are making as to the “…pseudo scientific approach to (a) soldierly exercises…” ? Is this linked to the “Anybody with half a military mind and imagination…” ?

2. I did ask for your sources and you have come up with Younghusband running out of ammunition – but is this relevant? By the time that Younghusband ran out of ammunition and made his last stand, the ammunition wagons had long been overrun by the Zulus and thus it bears little relevance to the supply of ammunition to the firing line. You mention Zulu accounts of the soldiers firing too low when ranges were other than ideal – can you state where these accounts come from and it what context they were made? Again I can not see the relevance ? Neither point to ammunition supply difficulties to the firing line.

3. The hypothetical question – again I’m not sure what you are asking . “limitless piles of ammunition”, “more shots, more casualties” ?? Over 300 yards the chance of hitting your target with a MH (in action) is about 5%, and over 700 yards it’s about 2%. You therefore need to fire a lot of rounds to achieve hits (at Rorke’s Drift – maybe 24,000 rounds fired and 600 dead Zulus). The VOLUME of fire is as important as casualties inflicted to deter an enemy assault. However, rifle fire is not always used to kill your opponent but is often used to dominate ground. The fire from the line had pinned the Zulus in the dead ground. Any attempt by the Zulus to come out of that “safe” area would be met by volley fire. The amount of fire would obviously be determined by how many times, and how determined were these attempts by the Zulus. The “killing ground” between the line and the dead ground was sufficient for the Martini-Henry’s to break up any concerted attack -the conditions would then be much the same as at Gingindhlovu and Ulundi.

Of course the difference at Isandlwana was that the flanks were not secure and the Zulus were able to envelop and thereby disrupt/destroy the ammunition supply chain.

The supply of ammunition to the line was clearly adequate to keep the Zulus pinned in the dead ground UNTIL the line started to withdraw (which coincided with the renewed Zulu surge). I would suggest that at Isandlwana the only time that ammunition shortage played an important part was in Durnford’s defence of the donga. However, as he was being outflanked, even adequate stocks of ammunition would have not altered the outcome there.

For the causes of the British defeat at Isandlwana, you need to look at factors other than the ammunition supply.


Good Lord, no, I was not suggesting the soldiers would have RUN with the loaded ammunition boxes !!! I can assure you that I have with colleagues, experienced the pleasure (!!) of carrying loaded ammunition boxes 800 yards on a very hot day across broken ground – I believe I was told it was “character building” ! Of course, it is neither easy nor pleasurable, but it can be done. Three men can fairly (!) easily carry two ammunition boxes.

As to the refusal to issue ammunition to Durnford’s men, I can only echo what Julian has said. The ammunition wagons of the 2/24 were loaded and lashed down ready to move out to support Chelmsford should there be an urgent requirement (after all, his men had marched out with only the 70 rounds per man). To unload and issue ammunition from these wagons could have put Chelmsford at serious risk. And of course, the perception was that Chelmsford was facing the greater danger – the main Zulu Army ! So I don’t think this is a question of QM bureaucracy. It is just unfortunate that none of Durnford’s men seemed to know where his own ammunition wagon was, and that they went to the 2/24 wagons as opposed to the 1/24 wagons, where the QM may have been a bit more sympathetic !

As you say, an interesting debate, though I suspect that the “ammunition excuse theory” will just not go away !!

18th May 2004Julian whybra
Steve, but this was not how it was done.
Men from the battalion band were allocated the duty of bringing ammo to the lines. They did so not in hatfuls but in cartfuls (and were seen doing so). There was no need to run back and forth. A single or perhaps two trips would have sufficed.
David, I meant to give no generalizations - but look at the James Stuart Archive of oral tradition among Zulus for the accounts of those Zulus who looted the battlefield. As for Durnford and Younghusband running out of ammo - well, of course, they might, once they were cut off and surrounded, but that's not what you were talking about. You were referring, as I was, to the supply of ammo to the lines for which there is no evidence of failure in any account - a fact which has to seriously answered if one is to maintain the opposing view. And, you're wrong, a soldier can be a bookworm (shall we say a scholar, to avoid being abilityist)?
18th May 2004Bill Cainan


Just to clarify the point. I agree totally with Julian that resupply would be done by thecompany carts. The point I was making that it would have also been feasible to man-handle the ammunition to the firing line, if the need had arisen, the weight and distance not being insurmountable problems. This strengthens the argument that the firing line did not run short of ammunition.

We await evidence to the contrary !

18th May 2004Keith Smith

May I please add a genuine item of source material, by Colonel (later Field Marshall) Evelyn Wood, talking about the battle of Khambula. This, as you perhaps remember, lasted roughly from 1 pm until 5 pm.

"The Line battalions were very steady, expending in four hours on an average 33 rounds per man." (Midshipman to Field Marshall, vol. 2, p. 64.)

This might put the expenditure of ammunition at Isandlwana in a rather different light.
18th May 2004Neil Aspinshaw
Logistically there are three factors, which I took the time to pace out this year on the battlefield, temp was 27 degrees. very sunny.
a) from the approx (I used the 24th memorial) position of the ammunition wagon. Of course the 1st battalions tents were a little further away (2/24th in the centre) but Pope was about the same distance as the crow fies from his ammunition it took me 19 minutes briskly to walk to the "central" (Wardell) position of the firing line, overlooking the zulu village. from the gatehouse as an approximate northern position of the firing line it took my 13 minutes to walk back.
b) Presuming Durfords retirement cut across the 1st Battalions supply line this distrance would be increase as the supply would have to skirt around the rear of this action making the distance further.
c) If the companies were using mule carts as Julian rightly states, one can presume they went along the companies dispensing boxes, staring at the shortest companyfirst, now this is where it starts to get interesting, inside the line (I used the edges of the rocky knoll) took me 22 minutes from the end of Popes position, past Wardells in the middle to Younghusband position at the end.
Bearing in mind I was walking briskly, and one would presume laden a mule cart would be about the same, it is a good 30 minutes from line edge to line edge, and then 13 minutes back. In the course of the action it is likely that the mule carts would only be able to make 1 or two trips max in 1 hour.
For men carrying these boxes it would be at likelyhood of at least 20 minutes +. given fatigue and heat.
I seem to recall Essex claiming he saw mules laden with boxes wandering around. Now, you know what I would do If I was down to mast last few rounds and an unteathered mule came by, yep...I'd shoot it!.
My final though, There is no doubt that the companies did get resupplied. But by how much and if they were re-supllied again within the time will always remain the enigma.

18th May 2004Bill Cainan

A good point. Firing lines do not normally fire continuosly, only on an "as required" basis", and try and operate well within their ammunition limitations. However, at Isandlwana, the Zulus would not have had any previous experience of Martini-Henry volley fire and as a consequence would probably tried that bit harder and for that bit longer. I would therefore expect the ammunition expenditure of the firing line at Isandlwana to be greater than that at Khambula.

You certainly galloped about the battleground, easily breaking my record for strolling from the rock to the rocky knoll. However, I doubt the carts would have gone ALONG the line. Each Company had a cart(s) which I'm presuming would go directly from the Regt QM's ammo wagons to its respective company. And remember my calculations above -, it would only take eight boxes to provide each man with 50 extra rounds.

Again, I come back to the point that there is no evidence that the firing line ever ran short of ammunition, whether it needed to be resupplied or not.

18th May 2004Neil Aspinshaw
I still have the blisters and suntan to proove it, yes, the whole idea was to try and move at a reasonable pace, as they would have on the day, adrenaline does tend to speed you a somwwhat!. I still look at some of the pictures I took looking back to the camp, it must be nearly half a mile
I do not think they ran out of ammunition either, until the lines were staring to implode. The period that the firing would be more intense would be as the zulus closed point blank, bear in mind a martini henry can fire at a good rate of 10-12 rounds per minute, expending rounds at an alarming rate. at an unmissable target.
Speak to anyone who fires martinis, this rate of fire can be sustained (with obvious with well documented jamming), quite a while. Evened out over the same timescale, this is as fast as a bolt action lee metford, as a LM has to be reloaded with multiple rounds, where as a martini is readly to laod after ejection of the cartrirge.
Of course what we have not touched on, which is well doucumented as casuals would be subject to wild rounds fired from the zulu ranks falling over the heads of the front line. wasn't Bloomfield hit by such?.
outflanking is the key feature, the companies could have blasted the oncoming zulus to kindom come, but the collapse of the right flank would it meant curtains anyway.
You probably didn't tank around the feild as quick as me, but the distance between Durnfords position and where Pope was overrun is invisible from the left of the line and the distance would allow half of zululand to ingress without hinderance!.it must be 500 yards wide open.
18th May 2004steve
what a great thread,and i find it heartening to see that the,"orthodoxy is my doxy,any other doxy is nonsense"rule doesnt apply here.
it just surprises me that 7 or eight hundred men,carrying app 70 rounds per man
means that around 50,000 rounds were on the
firing line.
i purposely didnt calculate all armed men.
minus the zulu dead,minus the zulu wounded,
some several times(brave fellas),minus faulty
rounds,minus rounds not fired,due to odd soldiers wounded,or killed ,or pockets eventually rifled,and youre still left with ,for arguements sake 30 odd thousand rounds that missed.
as the 24th were described as old sure shots,
and no mere boys,i just find it strange that 5 or 6 shots out of every 10 missed.

mules are notoriously skittish,and stubborn,
was it the rocket battery whose mules jumped on a rock and refused to come down,
with the spare rockets,just prior to that batteries demise,noise ,the whizz of bullets,
and gun reports combined to frighten them.
mules milling around in the camp is ok,but would they,like the rocket batteries,
act differently as they are led along the line,company to comany,as the fire thunders out,and bullets fly.....
i do take on board the serious points made by others,and i have nailed my colours to the mast of troop disposition,zulu manouvre,etc
its just that the ammunition or lack of(?) is so
very interesting.
regards to all

18th May 2004David Aln Gardner

Thanks for that, I think what you say is along my line of thoughts exactly we are talking about large distances under extreme conditions.British force undersetimated everything else that day, why not the ammuntion?-Pulleine was too slow on the uptake to changing circumstances and didn't know until far too late in the day what the reality of his situation was.
It's geat to hear someone taking he trouble to have paced out the battlefield.

pseudo scientific approach in this case is applying a strictly scientific approach to a subject which does not lend itself to such an undertaking.
To turn round and reject all informed opinion which is not backed up by the very limited accounts of day is not on.There is a mystery to Isandlwana that will not be subject to such examination.No-one will ever know for sure what was done on the day.
Further, my reference to Younghusband was to point out that ammuntion supply in his case failed, -technically it did.He was overrun, but had he been where the ammuntion was then things become different.
As I have tried to say, take the soldiers to where the ammuntion was, and things take a completely different complexion-why not look at it in this manner?

If I can put it another way,putting it mildly, both battalions were NOT swimming in ammo-since they were not, the VOLUME(thanks Bill, that was what I was trying to say previous) was insufficient to cause damge to the Zulus to the point they could not continue their attack.They could be halted temporarily,but we all know of the impetus that occured at the critical time of the Zulu cry, combined with the retreat of the troops
Had the Zulu's been hammered harder,earlier, this situation PERHAPS could have been avoided, we will never know.

To answer your further query in your quest for "sources", read this:- " Umhoti of the uHmcijo noticed that the soldiers facing him seemed to firing low, " most of the bullets striking the ground in front of us and ricocheting over the foremost men.

From Hill Of The Sphinx, by RWD Jackson chapter 6.I recommend reading it.

As I tried to explain the fire rate must have been curtailed by the officers in the knowledge that the supply at distance was limited.When you referred to volume of fire-this was PRECISELY my point. The volume was not what it could have been in that "golden hour", which was frittered away by keeping the Zulu merely at bay.
As regardss to the MIH accuracy and your percentage hits, don't forget we are not only talking about individual targets, but mass targets where a shot at the intended target could inflict wounds to the targets neighbour on missing the original.

Bill, you seem to be making the same same points as me, but from a different viewpoint, (ie that supply was not a factor according to you)
I say it must have been.

You mention the amount of rounds fired at RD(a figure I was aware of), you mention the need for volume, yet your mind is closed to the fact that supply was not a problem.

It had to have been a factor in the defeat. We can call it by another name if you like -faulty tropp dispostions,- but essentially the men were not where they should have been.

Closed up, with their ammuntion supply to hand.

18th May 2004Bill Cainan

Thank you for supplying the source of the quote – unfortunately, you appear to have misread Jackson ! In paragraph 1 of Chapter 6 of his excellent “Hill of the Sphinx” he is illustrating one of the problems with the Martini-Henry in that “at 800 yards…. a small mistake in judging the distance would send it over or drop it short of the target.” He uses Umhoti’s quote to illustrate this point - “the soldiers facing him seemed to be firing low”.

However, if you then read Paragraph 2 he says “At 400 yards, the maximum height of the bullet in flight was not more than three feet higher than the attackers head, and as it was easier to aim and judge distance at this range an experienced rifleman firing at an enemy coming on steadily had a much better chance of hitting him.” And “….it was at 400 yards that the main Zulu advance was held”.

All of the available evidence shows that the Zulus were checked in the dead ground at 400 yards, and could not advance into the volume of fire that the line could produce, and did. There is no evidence to show that this situation changed at all, and therefore ammunition supply must have been adequate for the volume of fire required to achieve this situation. There is no difference between the fire in this phase of the battle and the fire from a side of the squares at Gingindhlovu or Ulundi. The volume of fire ONLY reduced when the order was given to fall back on the camp and this coincided with the Zulu surge. The supply of ammunition could therefore only have become a problem at this stage.

You say that the “volume of fire was not what it could have been in that ‘golden hour’”. As the Zulus were pinned in the dead ground – what more could an increased volume have achieved ? As the British tactics were to stand on the defensive - “keeping the Zulu merely at bay” is a good result, though not perhaps as good as them continuing to advance and be decimated by the volley fire – thought that option is not under the control of the British !

The hit percentages are (I believe) taken from statistics obtained in the Sudan and in fact, were in relation to firing on massed targets. People are always surprised by how few of the rounds fired actually hit the intended target, but this is not unique to the Zulu War. I vaguely remember a quote about the Vietnam War where allegedly the Americans used on average a million rounds of small arms ammunition to secure one hit on a Viet Cong ! Maybe an exaggeration, but it does illustrate the point. Even with modern rifles on ranges you would be surprised how often soldiers get a low percentage hit score.

So then, what “informed opinion” am I rejecting ? Why does this “undertaking” not “lend itself” to a straight forward interpretation of the given facts ? Am I in so doing, using a strictly “scientific approach” making me more of a “bookworm than a soldier “ ? How is my mind “closed” on the question of supply ? There was no recorded problem with the volume of fire, which had achieved its objective . I am therefore deducing from that, that there was no problem with the supply – is this too simplistic ?

I think, David, that you and I will continue to disagree on this point, unless you are able to produce any evidence/quotes/sources that could confirm that there was a shortage of ammunition on the firing line.

Pulleine’s dispositions ? A separate topic for discussion I fear. However, I would put this point forward – if you had the perception that Chelmsford was off to the south-east fighting the main Zulu Army, then you could conclude with a fair degree of certainty that whatever was north of the camp could only be an isolated Zulu Regiment. On that basis, if you drew your troops up in accordance with Chelmsford’s instructions, as the Zulus came down off the plateau, your firing line would have stopped their advance at 400 yards (in the dead ground). Unable to advance further, the Zulus would eventually have had to break off the action. You would have saved the camp and would then have been the General’s “favourite“. But with hindsight, we all know better !

Iechyd Da

18th May 2004Marc Jung
A well presented debate, keep it up, guys, thanks. "But bullets run out, those bloody spears don't!"
19th May 2004David A lan Gardner

I have misread Jackson ?-not at all-you asked for a quotation where the soldiers are firing low, you get it and then you ntell me it was to do with the trajectory of the MH bullet.Yes, I know that, point is Bill THEY WERE MIS-AIMING.You asked for the source , you were given it, and now you change the goal post?
So this is an exercise in semantics?

Now, the The MH ballistics and lethality at 400 yd range I am aware of, and the Zulu's in the dead ground, but they were, they in dead ground to the front?-
If you say say this battle situation never changed, I completely disagree with that.The sitauation on the surface may have seemed static, in fact the situation was changing for the british with time.Indeed the left Zulu wing was forcing the situation to the right of camp for the outflank manouevre which was a keystroke in the victory.
You mention Gingindhlovu and Ulundi.What you don't mention is the far more defence positions organised by the British, and in the latter's case, a greater amount of concentrated firepower against a force similar to that fielded at Isandlwana.

You mention keeping the Zulus at bay "is a good result"-no I'm afraid it's not a good result Bill as proven by the outcome at the battle.The British forces were on limited resources and could not control what was happening at their right flank which was disastrous for them.
Had they been organised centrally with ther ammuntion reserves THEN keeping the Zulus at bay becomes a better option.

Re the "more of a bookworm than a soldier" was not for you, if you take it as such, the misinterpretation is yours Bill.This "undertaking" does not lend itself wholly to the scientific approach because as I have said earler, there are so many unknowns about the battle.
19th May 2004Neil Aspinshaw
I have mentioned on this site before about the inadequesy of the Martini Henry at range.
The distance at which the main body of zulu's could have been effectively engaged would be at 1200 yards, At that range it would be,as Bill mentioned very innefective, "firing for effect".
Your supposition that the 50000 rounds were potentially being fired in a bit high. The Martini Henry is sighted in two ways, a graduated lifting block sight at 0-400 yards, this allows the firer to draw a bead along the barrel and actually see the target. At ranges of 600-1200 yards, one has to lift the leaf backsight. The effect of this is you have to elevate the muzzle to acheive range, however, this completely blanks out the target so accurate aiming is impossible.

As the range closed the firer can draw a bead, however the problem then becomes on of target selection, as massed groups prove difficults targets, you cannot concentrate on one in particular, my basis is this .Stand in a busy shopping street and try an pick out say, the missus. its actaully quite difficult as the milling crown upsets your concentration.

The evidence, (while the main concentration of this thread is on the centre of the line and the dead ground),is that the obtuse angle of the position was, and proved to be untenable.

Thoretically the zulu's perfected Blitkreig, 70 years in advance! (now there is an idea for a thread) probing for weakness and exploiting fast moving shock troops, look how strong the maginot Line was.... and look what happened to that!.
19th May 2004David A lan Gardner

I have misread Jackson ?-not at all!-you asked for a quotation where the soldiers are firing low, you get it and then you tell me it was to do with the trajectory of the MH bullet! Yes, I know that, point is Bill THEY WERE MIS-AIMING.You asked for the source , you were given it, and now you change the goal post?
So this is an exercise in semantics?

Now, the The MH ballistics and lethality at 400 yd range I am aware of, and the Zulu's in the dead ground, but they were, they in dead ground to the front?-
If you say say this battle situation never changed, I completely disagree with that.The sitauation on the surface may have seemed static, in fact the situation was changing for the British with time.Indeed the left Zulu wing was forcing the situation to the right of camp for the outflank manouevre which was a keystroke in the victory.
You mention Gingindhlovu and Ulundi.What you don't mention is the far more defence positions organised by the British, and in the latter's case, a greater amount of concentrated firepower against a force similar to that fielded at Isandlwana.

You mention keeping the Zulus at bay "is a good result"-no I'm afraid it's not a good result Bill as proven by the outcome at the battle.The British forces were on limited resources and could not control what was happening at their right flank which was disastrous for them.
Had they been organised centrally with ther ammuntion reserves THEN keeping the Zulus at bay becomes a much better option.

Re the "more of a bookworm than a soldier" was not for you, if you take it as such, the misinterpretation is yours Bill, this "undertaking" does not lend itself wholly to the scientific approach because as I have said earler, there are so many unknowns about the battle.
The informed opinion you reject is the idea that you refuse to allow for the idea that ammuntion was not a factor in the defeat when it clearly was-certainly in Durnford's case, and later on in the case of individual units.

At the end of your mail you mention Pulleine's dispostions.Yes, agree with what you say in terms of the apparent perceptions and illusions that were had on the day.However when it became immediately apparent that the force facing them was much larger than was believed, Pulleine still had time to alter the situation-he didn't unfortunately,perhaps others would have, but then we wouldn't have the mystery and fascination of Isandlawana we have today.

Finally, pardon me for saying so, but you do seem confused with two different arguments ie the idea that ammuntion supply being the cause, as against ammunition supply being a factor in the defeat.
I will disagree forever on this issue, and for you to say that I must come up with sources/ quotes or be dismissed is a nonsense.Dead men don't talk Bill, but the battlefield speaks volumes, and boy was it big!

Sorry for the finger trouble/double post
19th May 2004Bill Cainan

We obviously have a serious difference of opinion !!

I don’t believe I have been moving goalposts, or have become confused ! But that is for others to judge !

I have tried to support my stance by evaluating the evidence for there being ammunition supply problems at Isandlwana (particularly to the firing line). The evidence “for” seems to be largely base on myth and folklore, perpetuated in books and of course in the film “Zulu Dawn”. This was the start point for this discussion, with Marc’s initial query. The evidence “against” seems pretty conclusive, and from that I have formed my opinion. However, because I don’t accept the idea that ammunition was a factor in the defeat you have me rejecting “informed opinion”. I have tried to ascertain what exactly that “informed” opinion was, but to no avail. However, I am always willing to stand corrected, an even change my opinion, if I could be shown sufficient evidence. I would certainly not take the stance of “disagreeing for ever” !!!

Opinions are all well and good, and I’m sure we all have plenty in relation to Isandlwana, but they need to be substantiated by hard facts if they are to carry any creedance. As more and more research is done into the battle, a much clearer picture is emerging, dispelling many of the myths that have arisen in the 125 years since that fateful day.

Perhaps I can take one example to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. In your penultimate paragraph you state “Pulleine still had time to alter the situation” – this is an opinion not a fact. Semantics ? yes, indeed !

David, could I suggest we now leave the discussion on ammunition as we seem to be going round and round ? I am quite intrigued by your thoughts as to how Pulleine could have retrieved the situation – perhaps you could start up a fresh topic on that ?

19th May 2004David Alan Gardner

Yes I agree with you about the myths being dispelled, lets face there were/is plenty of them , so in that sense, yes I agree with you, seperating the wheat from the chaff is important-but not to the exclusion of all other discussion which cannot be backed up by other material written previously.

There will always be room for "lateral thinking" if I may put it, because of the unknowns.Isandlwana is still a mystery, I hope we can agree on that.

I won't go into Pulleinein depth here, yes, he always merits good discussion!
For what it's worth, the idea standing shoulder to shoulder, withdrawing the companies to a central position was the life saver of the day-easy to say?-yes but could it have been done?-i believe indeed yes based on Zulu activity on the plateau which should have seved as a warning, Pulleine should have made the move.

I know he was told to the defend the camp, but at the critical time Pulleine could even decide on whether to act on orders from Chelmsford via Gardner and had to be prompted.He ended up in a scenario where the key point was to save not the camp but themselves

Bill perhaps I've said too much re Pulleine on this thread being irrelevant to subject thread,but I'm quite happy to discuss Pulleine on a seperately He is a subject of much interest!
19th May 2004steve
thanks for your comments,you obviously know your mh better than i do.........but,(sorry
their allways seems to be one)the 24th knew their weapons well,they handled them daily,
indeed crealock had previously passed comment during the xhosa campaign,
a company of the 24th were engaged in
blocking a xhosa retreat,"at a distance of 1300 yards,and were making good practice".
Each man knew the effects a hot barrel had,
strips of rawhide were used as a cure,and i
feel pretty sure that they knew the need for windage and elevation on long range targets.
They were proffessional soldiers,used to
war against fast moving native masses in africa,and used to using their weapons
in these types of situations,and given this
experience,"with some guts behind it",
its puzzling that the amount of ammunition
on the line,whether 40,000 or 50,000 is still
enough to anhialate the zulu army twice over,
and yet didnt.
my own thoughts are that the majority of
men probably had enough,the main problem
arose when durnford ran out,and had to withdraw,whether its his fault that he did not make allowances for his own rapid advance,
without ensuring his supply,or whether the fault of those who refused his three(?)runners
it still remains that the right was wide open,
pope had to alter his position,the company next to popes had to cover more ground..........
so however small,ammunition was the catalyst,but only one of a number of factors.
interesting,the blitzkrieg thoughts
and im reminded of the toast to captain sir
basil liddel hart,by the german general staff
at the fall of france,1940,for his pioneering work in that field ,who knows,perhaps he was an anglo-zulu buff too.
best regards to all
19th May 2004Julian Whybra
Saying that one cannot rely on the 'very limited' accounts of Isandhlwana is unacceptable and inaccurate. Forty-three survivors left 115 accounts (some left several). They do not mention ammo failure. You cannot dismiss this. To invent 'facts' blithely, in contradiction to what the survivors said themselves is unacceptable. Where does it say that "ammuntion was clearly a factor in the defeat - certainly in Durnford's case"? Who said this? Sweeping off-the-cuff generalizations are not valid arguments. Neither is your 'bookworm'-soldier conflict of approach valid. You cannot interpret history indefiance of the evidence. Rather than quoting secondary sources, contributors should read the original primary sources and base judgements on those, if they want their opinions to be taken seriously.
19th May 2004Julian Whybra
Saying that one cannot rely on the 'very limited' accounts of Isandhlwana is unacceptable and inaccurate. Forty-three survivors left 115 accounts (some left several). They do not mention ammo failure. You cannot dismiss this. To invent 'facts' blithely, in contradiction to what the survivors said themselves is unacceptable. Where does it say that "ammuntion was clearly a factor in the defeat - certainly in Durnford's case"? Who said this? Sweeping off-the-cuff generalizations are not valid arguments. Neither is your 'bookworm'-soldier conflict of approach valid. You cannot interpret history indefiance of the evidence. Rather than quoting secondary sources, contributors should read the original primary sources and base judgements on those, if they want their opinions to be taken seriously.
19th May 2004steve
i am not quite sure whether your response is to me or someone else,perhaps you could
19th May 2004Melvin Hunt
You say that 43 survivors left 115 accounts. You have said on a previous thread that you have all the known accounts. Have you thought about publishing them as a primary source collection?
20th May 2004Bill Cainan
I've just been reading the "Memoirs of Field Marshall Lod Grenfell", who in 1879 was a Major on the Headquarters Staff. In Chapter III (on the Anglo-Zulu war) is a comment relevant to ammunition and the "last stands" -

"I was sent to accompany the first party which returned to Isandhlwana after the reorganisation of the force at Pitermartizburg, I found the dead bodies of about two companies of the 24th, lying with hundreds of cartridge cases about them .... "

20th May 2004Neil Aspinshaw
I have just checked back, in the 1879 tests at the Sandy Hook grounds in New jersey, a .450 (480) grain Martini Henry was compared against an Allin Springfield. At 1000 yards the Martini recorded an 18.2" mean radius of deflection in flight, in cone form at 1300 yards this is going to be nearer 26"!, making accurate aim extremely difficult at range. Also at 400 yards+ the arc of the projectile in flight would be approx 18", so if you were aiming at say someones head and shoulders in the dead ground, the chance of overshot/ undershot is very high.
Without wanting be boring, the hit rate would be very low, the expenditure, high. In undulating ground the zulus would be able to close quickly, and reletavely unmollested until the range closed to say 400 yards.
Bill, the only downside to actaully "counting "cartridge cases is the zulus pulled the projectile from the case to extract the powder for their smooth bores.
I recall an anecdote from George Bunting, who stated (this would be in the late 50's/60's) that they visited the battle field when it was still "littered with small heaps of cartridge cases on the firing line"
what price £ for cases of that pedigree now?
20th May 2004Julian whybra
This one is becoming so involved and complex it's getting difficult to keep track of who's replying what to whom.
Melvin, I am doing just that at the moment.
Steve, no my response was not to you, it was to comments made by David on the 18th re 'limited accounts' and 'ammo being a factor in Durnford's defeat'.
Neil and David, you talk of informed opinion, but to be convincing in your argument for the ammo supply to the line failing, you have to explain why no survivor speaks of it. The only reason is that it didn't happen. Should I assume a failure to reply to mean your acquiescence?
20th May 2004Bill Cainan

As the bulk of the firing was done on the firing line, you would expect that to be the site of cartridge cases.

The Grenfell quote on cartridges was to illustrate that even at the sites of last stands, cartridges were still available. Whether the empty cases were indicative that the Zulus separated the cartridge case from the bullet or whether the men had fired them wasn't really the point I was making. It is the location of the cartridge cases that is interesting.

20th May 2004Neil Aspinshaw
I have no doubt the bulk of the fired cases would be in close prox to firing line,

Where have l implied that ammunition shortage was the issue to the main firing line,? only to argue that replenishment, whilst it has proved to have be done initially (as Pvt Williams had seen bandsmen with mules attempting to get to the firing line) would become stretched as the time commenced, a la the time to go back and forth.
The fact that the companies would have enganged the zulus at range, lets say 1000 yards?, as they descended the ridge within two minutes, the line could (emphasis) have expended 20% of carried ammunition (basis of 70 rounds) without particulally hitting much. the zulu's close then relatively un- troubled (except by N5) guns

So Durnford is on the retreat, pope has gone, Porteous on the extreme right has to potentailly engage the Right horn at 1000 yards with totally inneffetive enfilade.

So my point... if and even if they companies were supplied, within a very short time the supply from the rear would slow up but not dry up. Mindful of this officers would control firing rate.
So pulliene sounds retire. The men retire with what they are carrying, apart from stuffing what packs of ten they could carry into their expense pouch from boxes ,thats about it!. even if the groups had reformed and retired in order. the outcome would have been no different . The ammo was now on the line, being carried off by leaderless donkeys or way back at the wagon.
Ouflank and cut off the head! simple.
20th May 2004Julian Whybra
Neil, you were typing so fast that your last message doesn't make sense.
From what I think you've written, i respond as follows:
I am glad that you do not believe there was an ammo supply failure to the line. Of course, once coys were surrounded they would only be able to fire what they had with them. Nevertheless there was not a 'going back and forth' from the ammo waggons to the line such as you describe. I would expect no more than 1 or 2 journeys at most per coy cart for resupply purposes.
Descending the ridge according to Essex was done in an orderly fashion with one coy covering another's retreat. I would think 5 minutes would allow for this but I cannot concur that they would have used 20% of their ammo whilst doing so!
Neither is here any evidence that the Zulus were able to follow hot on their heels let alone close with them. None of the timings from survivors' accounts allow for this scenario nor do Zulu accounts.
Durnford's withdrawal occurred before G coy's retreat not at the same time.
The other coys would have acted on Durnford's wish to concentrate his force and begun to withdraw (there is evidence that this was done/being done at the time of the final Zulu charge).
The retire was sounded shortly after Durnford's withdrawal.
As troops withdrew from the firing line any ammo boxes would have been taken with them by the bandsmen acting as stretcher bearers whose job it was to distribute ammo along the line.
20th May 2004Ron Lock
Julian: A few days ago you mentioned "The screws araagument has been shattered a while back". Can you please give me some information as I was not aware of it.

20th May 2004steve

i appreciate others have researched the
subject thoroughlly,and newcomers like
myself have only other peoples thoughts and
written work to formulate an opinion,thats why the forum is such an ideal place.
i see ian knight has lieutenant Higginson
with n/o-6 company 1/3 nnc in front of the tents,and that he had noticed with some concern the amount of men coming in from
outlying companies searching for ammunition
is this the holy grail ?
perhaps someone could confirm or deny this,
if confirmed the terminology is of interest,
"searching"denotes looking for something not readilly to hand or available,also if the quote is correct,what happened to the mules
which were supposed to be resupplying.

davies and molife refer to a lack
of ammunition in the donga,(allegedly)
but its the three men sent by durnford to obtain more that is of interest.
i read that they are sent singularly,first one then another etc,with the distance from the stand in the donga to the camp,one man leaves
time passes he does not return,second man
leaves he does not return,then davies leaves and returns with a few rounds(200) all too late

each man must have been away 15 to 20 minutes, 45 mins to an hour fighting the right horn waiting for cartridges is a long time,
presuming of course molife and davies are
correctly quoted
perhaps you could advise.
20th May 2004steve
gentleman............i think you all realise i meant,of course,the LEFT horn...........
some say i dont know my left from my right,

"now now less of your spleen"
21st May 2004Keith Smith

May I observe that your time of 5 minutes for the retreat of Cavaye and Mostyn to the foot of the spur is something of an underestimate. Let me quote Essex:
"About five minutes after the arrival of Captain Mostyn’s company I was informed by Lieut. Melville, Adjutant 1st Battalion 24th Regiment, that a fresh body of the enemy was appearing in force in our rear, and he requested me to direct the left of the line formed as above described, to fall slowly back, keeping up the fire. This I did, then proceeded towards the centre of the line. I found, however, that it had already retired, I therefore followed in the same direction, but being mounted had great difficulty in descending the hill, the ground being very rocky and precipitous. On arriving at the foot of the slope I found the two companies 1st Battalion 24th Regiment drawn up at about 400 yards distant in extended order, and Captain Younghusband’s company in a similar formation in echelon on the left. The enemy was descending the hill, having rushed forward as soon as our men disappeared below the crest, and before the right of the line, with which I was present, had even arrived near the foot of the hill. " (Evidence to Court of Enquiry)

"The two companies which had been moved from the hill were now getting short of ammunition, so I went to the camp to bring up a fresh supply. I got such men as were not engaged, bandsman, cooks, &c., to assist me, and sent them up to the line under charge of an officer, and I followed with more ammunition in a mule cart." (Letter to thThe Times)

The distance from their original position to the foot of the hill is about a kilometre and I do not believe that their withdrawal would have taken less than about 20 minutes. Note that they withdrew 'slowly' and he had difficulty coming down. He also seems to indicate that the Zulu followed them down the hill as they withdrew.

I agree that there is no evidence to suggest that they consuumed 20% of their ammunition during the retreat. From his words, it is also clear that their ammunition was replenished effectively, even though they suffered a brief shortage.

I hope that this assists with what I believe is a fascinating thread.

21st May 2004David Alan Gardner
Whta I actually said in my previous post on the tread was

"To turn round and reject all informed opinion which is not backed up by the very limited accounts of day is not on.There is a mystery to Isandlwana that will not be subject to such examination.No-one will ever know for sure what was done on the day."

No one is dismissing the 115 accounts that were left. What I AM saying is that it will never tell the whole story.Survivors were intent on that ie SURVIVING, so it's not surprising the picture cannot be put into place.
What do you mean when you ask "where does it say ammunition was clearly a factor in the defeat-certainly in Durnford's case?"
Who said this? I SAID IT -why can't I say this, because you Julian say I cannot? Excuse, me, but your approach stinks of "thou shall have no other God than me".Just because you said it , it "ain't necessarily so".
Why isn't my soldier-bookworm remark valid?-again, just because you say that it isn't?

If a commander such ie Durnford sends back for ammunition, then clearly is short.He is in a postion perhaps where he has to husband ammunition, thus influencing the amount of damage that could be inflicted.Granted, he was being outflanked in any case, but ammuntion supply was a factor.He didn't have enough.

Who else didn't have enough at the end up?We don't know? At the end when it fell to pieces, many would have been left without-but unlike Scott of the Antarctic, did not not have time to leave the note "Am firing my last round, signing off now".

Keith Smith mentions the account of Essex and his resupply.That there was a period where there may have been a shortage?
How much did the men hold back not that supply was low? How many potential Zulu casualties were lost?
So supply was absolutely not a factor of influence on the battle? soreeeee! I disagree , and because I have no written sources this cannot be contemplated??


Perhaps in your last contribution, you give your postion away.You mention that you are glad that Neil does not believe there was any ammo supply failure, then go on to say "of course once coys were surrounded they would only be able to fire what they had."

So, ammuntion supply was not a factor in the battle?- yet the men died on running out of bullets?
Ammuntion supply was absolutely not a factor in a single shot rifle with mass targets?

21st May 2004steve
please note,that in my last but one post,
when i say ,"waiting for ammunition"i do not
mean they were out,merely low,and acutely
aware that they were low,hence riders for
21st May 2004Julian Whybra
Apologies for taking a while to come back with a reply. Fitting in checking sources with work took longer than expected.
Ron (20th),
My comment was to counteract the remarks made earlier about time being wasted removing screws from ammo boxes. David Jackson wrote an article for the JSAHR some time back – it is summarized on p. 74-5 of Hill of the Sphinx, clarifying that nine screws per copper band did not have to be removed before opening the ammo box. One locking screw alone held down the central sliding panel and this could be circumvented by kicking the edge of the sliding panel. I’m sure you know all this already but this was what I was specifically referring to in my remark.
Steve (20th),
Leaving aside literary licence on Ian Knight’s part, Higginson actually wrote this:
“two 24th men and one Sergt. of Capt. Lonsdale’s company came in for ammunition. They took two boxes out with them….” That is all. “Searching” is Ian Knight’s word, not Higginson’s. I see no reason why Higginson should have added the obvious to his report i.e. “two men, a cart, a mule, (and a dog) came in for ammunition…” – the report was to Chelmsford himself.
Davies states that he and others were sent back to resupply with ammo – I have quoted his remarks verbatim before quite recently on the website, I’m not going to repeat them here – he could not find the NNH wagon – he was resupplied from the Carbineers’ camp. He returned to the front with the ammo. The phrase “all too late” is not Davies’s. Immediately after this Durnford withdrew his men wishing to consolidate the force because he thought the line too extended. Neither did Davies imply that the line withdrew because it had no ammo. No commander in the field waits till the last minute to resupply his men with ammo. Ample time would have been allowed. There is no suggestion that it was not. Secondary sources are not always reliable because of the language used to make the story more exciting. I always rely the primary sources.
David Alan (21st),
You are correctly quoting the words to which I was referring. First, my reply endeavoured to affirm that the accounts were not “very limited” as you suggested. Secondly, though I did not say this, you imply that your opinion was “informed” but do not say where this ‘information’ comes from. How can it be both “informed” but not endorsed by “information” from those who were there? You may not be denying the existence of 115 accounts but you did write that they were “very limited”. Certainly not in quantity were they limited! You are correct in stating that they do not tell the whole story. There are in addition the Zulu accounts, the contemporary British and Zulu secondary accounts, the reports of the burial parties, etc., the official reports, the archaeology, Zulu lore, and the snippets that have come down though the families of survivors. There is also historical interpretation based on the evdience You write that “survivors were intent on surviving, so it's not surprising the picture cannot be put into place.” On the contrary, when one reads the accounts, one is struck by two things. First, how little of the desperate flight and fight for survival is actually mentioned in the text. Terrible though it must have been, modesty, a desire not to appear boastful, and gratitude that they’d lived, prevented survivors from ‘gloating’ over the fact. (There are one or two exceptions here but even then such remarks are made within the context of commending a brave man or bemoaning the loss of a friend). Secondly, the accounts are extraordinarily lucid about the battle (or his bit of it) itself and this takes up the major part of the account – some even dismiss the flight in a sentence or two. I imagine afterwards that they must have remembered the major events of the tranquil and historic morning and were intent on surviving, as you have said, during the afternoon flight. They were also writing (for the most part) their accounts for official reports. Therefore, we do not get “very limited” accounts – they are lucid, informative, often ‘formal’ in style, and relevant. They were not “intent on surviving” when the accounts were written – they were written in the, what must have been, glorious light of the next day.
You also wrote that "ammunition was clearly a factor in the defeat - certainly in Durnford's case?" I asked you where you had quoted this from. Your reply on the 21st makes it clear that you were not quoting from a primary source. You were giving a personal opinion which was not based on any historical evidence. Thank you for the clarification.
You are quite wrong about my approach. I am extremely interested in others’ opinions (and information). You will see this if you look back over the website’s messages. You will also find that Bill Cainan, Peter Ewart, Edward Garcia, Keith Smith, John Young and many of the regular contributors have helped me with research from time to time. The difference is that they have provided historical evidence to support such information or opinions. Personal opinion, interesting though it may be, is not enough.
I infer from the ‘bookworm’ element of the soldier-bookworm remark a pejorative, denigratory sense – although to be honest I am not sure which of the two – soldier or bookworm – you think I am. You know nothing of my personal background so either could be true. I am however certainly not a ‘bookworm’ in the sense that I have a shelf of AZW popular histories, I don’t - not that there is anything wrong in being one – most of the people who visit this site might describe themselves (happily) as such. I found the remark invalid because quite simply I felt it rude, I felt it set a bad precedent for the website, I felt the remark decried an academic contribution and made it of little consequence. This is quite clearly wrong in my opinion.
You wrote, “if a commander such ie Durnford sends back for ammunition, then clearly [he] is short.” This is not so. A commander sends back for ammunition well before he runs short, in good time to replenish. He is most definitely not in a position where he has to husband ammo. There is nothing in any of the sources which states that “ammunuition was a factor or that he [Durnford] didn’t have enough.” And…this was, as I have said above, not the reason for his withdrawal from the donga. Again, as I’ve said above, once the men were overrun and isolated groups were surrounded in camp, then they would gradually run out of ammo and be annihilated.
Your next remark “Who else didn't have enough at the end up?” does not make sense.
The comment made by Keith re Essex assisting the resupply of E coy does not imply a shortage – it implies a careful, well-prepared company officer doing precisely what he was paid for. There are many other such instances quoted in survivors’ accounts, all implying what damned good officers the 24th had.
The first of your next two remarks “How much did the men hold back not that supply was low? How many potential Zulu casualties were lost?” does not quite make sense but you make the assumption that their ammo was low – there is no evidence that it became so (until as I have said) they were completely cut off from being resupplied. The answer to the second remark is none, because it didn’t happen, and, “because [you] have no written [or other] sources”, this cannot be contemplated, to borrow your own words.
I have only ever maintained that a failure of the ammunition supply to the front line did not happen and therefore was not a factor in the disaster. Your remark “so, ammuntion supply was not a factor in the battle?- yet the men died on running out of bullets?” confuses my stance on ‘ammo failure’ with the (obvious) fact that once men were cut off they would inevitably run out of ammo – that, as you well know, is not the point of dispute.
Lastly, I am able to state certain things are or are not the case within the realm of my knowledge and expertise. Setting aside reputation, I have written books and many articles (based on primary-source evidence) on the AZW, almost all with particular reference to Isandhlwana and have a vast collection of primary-source materials collected since 1972. I have also been fortunate in my friendship with David Jackson, whose similar collection began in the 50s (some things no longer obtainable or even in existence), and others, and we share that information. My training is that of an academic historian – I make no apologies for it.
I am not aware of anything you’ve written and you have clearly not had access to the majority of primary sources, but you do have, and are entitled to, your opinions, some of which have been interesting and valuable in stimulating debate. I have merely asked you to provide evidence for the more controversial ones.
I also give freely of my time and knowledge on this website and privately to many of its contributors. The sharing of knowledge and opinions which this website affords is excellent, second-to-none even. I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about Isandhlwana (though I’d dearly love to) and I do make mistakes. But I do pretend to know that for which there is no evidence. Unless of course contributors have such to the contrary…in that way we all move forward.
Keith (21st),
Thanks, I agree. I was responding to the comment made by Neil (I think) that they came down the spur in two minutes. Jackson believes that F coy went up the hill at the double in 10 mins., Lock & Quantrell give it 15 mins. My estimate was based on the fact that coming down was going to take shorter than going up. They did shift their original position on the spur so I thought 5 mins would sufficient but on second thoughts, 10 minutes, proceeding slowly, covering for one another, would perhaps be about right, though of course one can never know for sure.
The Zulus would have rushed forward to the crest as they saw the men’s heads disappear below the skyline and it was when Essex had almost arrived at the foot of the spur that he stated, “the enemy was descending the hill, having rushed forward as soon as our men disappeared below the crest, and before the right of the line, with which I was present, had even arrived near the foot of the hill." I think your wording “followed them down the hill” is apposite – he does not say ‘engaged in close-quarter, hand-to-hand fighting’ – and he surely would have done, if that had been the case. I note that Stafford and Davies in their accounts give no such reading of events. But, of course, the Zulus did follow them down the hill eventually, but not hot on their heels as Neil implied.
21st May 2004steve
thanks for the benefit,i appreciate the work that went into all sections of your detailed
just a couple of comments,
"no commander in the field waits till the last minute to resupply his men with ammo"

i agree,but this commander did not ensure
the whereabouts of his own resupply,or,it was located other than where it should have been,
or the men sent to retrieve it did not look
hard enough, remains that
they took some from the carbineers,whether
200 rounds or half a box,because their own
supply was,..........missing.
was durnford a field commander?
and by that i dont mean was he a brave man,
that is beyond question and i have no wish to
denigrate his memory.
bushmans pass wasnt inspiring,then we have
chelmsfords written rebuke,of only days earlier,his conversation with pulleine for
additional troops for his intended sallying out
and on pulleines alarm,his expectation to be supported in the event that he needed it.
He was a commander,he was in the field,but he could not ensure the location of
his own ammunition supply,
is this the field commander that would not leave resupply to the last minute?
and what of molife,i have no access to his
original words,perhaps others have.

To an extent we are all bookworms,or film buffs or internet geeks,as no one(unless
methusela contributes)alive has spoken to victor or vanquished alike,and the trouble with the written word is it makes no allowances for the inevitable gaps,that a last man standing leaves.........hence informed opinion.
lastly ,on a lighter note the mule the cart and the dog,i know the cart and mule were spotted milling around the camp,but am i right in assuming that the dog lies buried beneath the grassy knoll together with the third man ?

21st May 2004Peter Quantrill
Indeed we are now covering ground covered many times before.Once again, courtesy of Brecon,let us examine Captain W.P.Symons report.The latter is secondary,as he was 2/24th and out with Glyn. He spent the best part of two months writing his comprehensive report whilst stationed at Rorke's Drift in March/April 1879.This was no ordinary report. It ran to nearly 50 pages and was read by Her Majesty the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Sir Charles Ellice, Intelligence Department. So sensitive were his findings that the Queen requested they not be published until after Chelmsford's death.He covers in great depth both Ilandlwana and RD. Symons states in his opening para. on Isandlwana, " the details were chiefly collected from the few survivors who escaped." By that remark it is an assumption that the report was compiled after debriefing most survivors.As we are discussing the ammo controversy together with quotes from primary sources including Essex, what does Symons have to say?
1. " The movements of the two companies of the 1/24th ( Cavaye and Mostyn) do not quite agree with those given by by Captain Essex 75th. His account, although most clear and circumstantial, is not the same as that give by MANY other survivors." This damning statement leaves doubt as to the accuracy of Essex's account.Unfortunately Symons does not amplify further. Other than there are possible errors in Essex's report one is left to speculte the details.However the accuracy of Essex's report is now be open to question.
2.'' Our men now began running backwards and forwards by twos and threes for ammunition.Officers in the camp serving it out and carrying it to the front." The indication here is clear. More ammo required, but no signs of total failure.Resupply by the firing line doubling back.
3. " What made the line retire it will be asked.Without doubt the result of the following circumstances. ------ Third, the failure of the ammunition supply."
4. "They commenced with seventy rounds per man, and these must pretty well have been expended. The reserve was in the wagons, at the nearest point 500 yards in their rear, every man was in the ranks and there were NO ARRANGEMENTS made for bringing up the cartridges to the firing line, and therefore as has already been stated, the men had to renew their supply by running back to the wagons themselves. From this it is clear that our soldiers were getting short of ammunition and that there was some confusion and difficulty in getting more."
The very anxiety of running short was therefore becoming a factor.
5." The seventy rounds must therefore have been pretty well expended ---- There was absolutely NO ARRANGEMENTS whatsoever for bringing up spare ammunition. As already noted men were seen running back to the wagons for bringing up spare ammunition."
Symons has repeated himself and clearly makes a case for the supply line completely failing. This may well contradict some primary sources, but my money is on the good Captain. No ordinary report was this.
6. Finally he sums up the reason's for the defeat. ------ " these with the failing of the ammunition."
Penn Symons concludes by saying " It (the report) has the great advantage of having been written from NOTES and CONVERSATIONS made on the spot. In all cases it contained the FIRST statements of survivors.-- men forgot what they, amidst great exitement, saw and did, and mixed up what others told them with their own experiences---- the desire to record the truth and exact circumstances, as far as I could ascertain them, chiefly led me to write what I have written."
Not enough cognisance, in my view, has been taken of Symons report.It certainly forms the basis for further analasys. Indeed he indicates that in the heat of battle, followed by primary source statements made thereafter, a great deal of "puffing' may well have occured, and this he has put right.
22nd May 2004Keith Smith

I'm sorry, but I can't agree that the Essex version is to be doubted. It was written on 24th January, less than 24 hours after the events he described. I am uncertain as to whom Penn Symons could have spoken in order to give a different version, since all those who were involved, Cavaye, Mostyn and Melvill, were all dead. Further, Penn Symons gathered his information over a period of three months and the document itself is dated 21st January 1880. One must also consider that he did not always get things right. For example, his account of the finding of the bodies of Melvill and Cohill, and the retrieval of the Cololour, is inaccurate, if one reads the accounts of Colonel Glyn, Henry Harford and Charles Norris-Newman, who were all involved.

Finally, some of the entries in the account were added on the reverse of the written pagea, at some time after the original account was written, so that they do not form a cohesive part of the whole. This is not apparent when reading the transcribed version of the work, a point I made to the staff at the Brecon Museum when I was last there.

22nd May 2004Keith Smith
Whoops! Please excuse the error in the opening para. of my last, which should read "48 hours". Fat finger syndrome!

22nd May 2004Bill Power
Gentlemen,Perhaps a small quibble! Were not Durnford's troop issued Snider-Enfields,using a round unique to them on the battlefield?! "Dentin" Primer"with a Short Chamber Boxer-Henry 577/450 round in a "FlipTop"[especially the MkII**and earlier variants-the "Suicide Breech"],would prove "Amusing"?! The problem with the M-H's siights,other than the rifling deflection latterly,was the fact,that on the leaf,over 400 yds.,the horizontal sight picture was blocked! when one gets to to 600 Yds."AU Resourvoir"CheekWeld"- the"Sine Que Non"of accuracy-
22nd May 2004Graham Alexander
It is difficult to see with which part of Essex's report and letter that Captain Symons finds differs from other survivors reports. Essex basically describes his actions as 1) joining Mostyn and Cavaye and falling back with them
2) trying to arrange a supply of ammunition for the men 3) discovering that he is nearly surrounded and 4) leaving the field.
His description of the firing at Mostyn and Cavaye's position cannot be disputed as he was the only survivor from this action. There would have been nobody left to give any different version of events.
He then gives a clear indication that he assists in the distribution of ammunition to the firing line. This is also undisputed as Smith-Dorrien is working alongside him in this task. He arranges for a cart to be loaded with ammunition and also for it to be sent out " by hand ". There is no indication in his letters that he is doing anything out of the ordinary, merely helping in a certain role. As a transport officer he had no responsibilities on the firing line and therefore must have felt that his action with the ammunition was giving some assistance where it was needed. Indeed he returns to the firing line to tell the men that ammunition is on its way, thereby helping morale.
His discussion with Durnford about the critical situation they are finding themselves in cannot be confirmed, but is it likely that he would not be reporting the truth ? There are no wild claims from him of brave actions or heroic deeds, only his attempts to help in a deteriating situation. It is a great pity that captain Symons did not elaborate on his statement but where are the errors which he reports ?
22nd May 2004steve
do you know whether capt.w.p.symons
lengthy report is available in print ?

i was checking the royal website
and noticed that they say a large amount of
material they hold concerning the anglo zulu war is as yet,still unpublished,perhaps its time it was transferred to several volumes,verbatim,anyway just curious to find out whether symons had ever been printed ,
as i only live half an hour away from brecon,i suppose i could allways pop and ask them,
23rd May 2004Julian whybra
Sorry, I had to work yesterday, so now I have to catch up.
Steve (21st and 22nd)
Some of your points really require an essay for an answer which I don’t really have time to do. You should read a thoroughly accurate account of the battle – Jackson’s Hill of the sphinx will do – either get it from the library or buy it from this website.
Molife was in Henderson’s NNH troop (the arrangements for resupply were different to the 24th’s) and he said this relating to his own troop:
“But at last our cartridges were nearly done. The colonel had sent a messenger back to the camp for more, but none came. Then he sent Mr Henderson & another, but now our cartridges were quite done, & suddenly the Colonel told us all to come back with him into the camp. We went but on the outskirts of the camp we met Mr Henderson who took us to our own wagons for more ammunition.”
Symons (Penn was his middle name, not part of the surname) report was published as a pamphlet. I have a copy which came some years back from the RRW museum. It’s entitled ‘The 24th Regiment at Isandhlwana’ and was edited by Frank Emery.
Peter Q (21st)
Indeed, we have been there before, haven’t we! I have to say that Keith has somewhat beaten me to it in his reply, but I would add that Symons’s report is often at odds with the recorded comments made in writing immediately after the battle. In particular his remark about absolutely no arrangements were made re ammo resupply directly contradict the honestly recorded words of for example the humble Pte. Wilson – the only man who paraded with the regt that morning to survive the day –
“The bandsmen were told off as stretcher bearers, ammunition carriers…..”
“As we were going down the ammunition was beginning to be brought to the companies…”
These imply that orders WERE specifically given re arrangements for resupply and that it DID happen.
Your money is on the good captain but mine is on Tommy Atkins. I wonder for what purpose Symons was writing. As we’ve said before we have to agree to disagree on this one.
I agree entirely.
23rd May 2004Ron Lock
Julian: If there was an ammo. shortage, as I believe there was, the primary reason would most likely have been the inability to open some - not all - of the ammo boxes. I do not agree that the screws argument has been, as you say, "shattered a while back". Nor that "A swift kick to the central panel was enough to open the box. This was an old soldiers trick". Kicking the central panel would achieve little except a sore foot. Nor
could it have been "an old soldiers trick" as such would imply that old soldiers had learned through experience and therefore, prior to the Battle of Isandlwana, there had
been frequent occasions when, under attack and short of ammo, boxes had been opened by the knack of a swift kick. When and where did this myth originate?
As far as I can see, in 1881, AFTER THE BATTLE.
The War Office Treatise of that year stated "On emergency the lids secured by screws may be opened by a good kick or a blow with a stone etc., on the edge of the lid furthest from the screw". A sly statement by the W.O., I believe, to vindicate itself from a faulty design which it had, by this time, revised. The securing screws had been replaced by a quick release split pin fastening. In the same treatise, the W.O., in order to justify the new innovation, stated that previously the lid had been secured by a brass screw, the unscrewing of which "... on service occasioned loss of time and even more serious consequenses ...". An oblique reference to Isandlwana?

Certainly Lord Chelmsford was unaware of any short cut to opening boxes. Two months after Isandlwana, he issued the following order: "The regimental reserve boxes must have the screw of the lid taken out, and each wagon or cart will have a screw driver attached to one of the boxes so that it may be ready for opening when the screw has not been taken out".

The ammo box controversy has been raging, on and off, for years. Perhaps it can be sorted out once and for all? Peter Quantrill and I will undertake to have an ammo box constructed under the strict supervision of an adjudicator and to precise W.O. specifications where applicable Then, as I believe a fairly large U.K. tour will be staying at Isandlwana Lodge later in the year, all those present who support the theory of a single blow with a rock or Martini Henry or a kick, will be invited to perform. We would be grateful for any response to this proposal.

Graham. There were other survivors from the ridge apart from Essex who could have given evidence to Penn Symons; Captain William Barton, and Lieutenanats Charles Raw and Richard Wyatt Vause, all of the NNH.

Also bear in mind that there were three quartermasters issuing ammunition, those of the 1/24th, 2/24th and Natal Carbineers. Although I believe there was an ammo shortage due to difficulties in opening boxes, I also believe it was confined to the boxes of the 1/24th. The ammo controversy is gone into in much detail on pages 322/327 of 'Zulu Victory'.
23rd May 2004Peter Quantrill
Penn Symond's report may well have been dated 21st. January 1880, but it was written within one month of the battle and completed within two months. Furthermore he had the advantage of being able to communicate with all relevant survivors.If you are uncertain who Symons could have conversed with, consider the following list in no specific order:
Raw, Davies, Higginson, Pvt.Williams, Pvt Dillon, Cochrane, Hans Boer, Smith- Dorrien, Curling, Barton, Vause, Stafford, Brickhill et al, not to mention the numerous statements avaible to Symons which could have been recorded and were deliberately omitted as a direct result of Harness considering that they were not relevant at the Court of Inquiry. Undoubtedly Symons also had acess to those and perhaps more.
The point I am making is that all survivors would have spoken freely to Symons as they recounted the horrors of the day.They had no axe to grind. It is not Symons who is recording HIS version, but rather what numerous others had told him and these numerous reports did not tally with Essex's version given in his official report. It is therefore evidenced that certain aspects of Essex's account are not acceptable to Symonds or those numerous survivors interviewed by Symons. This to my mind this is compelling. How can so many all agree that there is a factual fault in Essex'x report? So what is contentious? We are only discussing that portion of Essex's report concerning Mostyn and Cavaye What did Essex say?
He stated that at 10.30 a.m Cavaye was sent "as a piquet on the hill to the north of the camp." Then at twelve o'clock " I passed a company of the 1/24th under the command of Captain Mostyn ----and to inform that officer (Cavaye) that he himself ( Mostyn) was moving up to the left."
Then " On arriving at the foot of the slope I found the two companies of 1st Battalion 24th Regiment drawn up at about 400 yards distant in extended order, and Captain Younghusband's company in a similar formation in echelon on the left."
Finally the last reference to Mostyn and Cavaye, " The companies 1st Battalion 24th Regiment were now becoming short of ammunition, and at the request of the officer in charge ( who? ) I went to procure a fresh supply ------ . I had some some boxes placed on a mule cart and sent off to the companies engaged."
Therefore the following possibilities exist.
1. The timings given by Essex are questionable.( Not really contentious.)
2.Essex's position of the companies on withdrawing from Tahalene Ridge. ( This seems unlikely.)
3.The detailed resupply of ammunition that Essex recounts.
This seems to be what Symonds is alluding to as the latter refutes that any resupply system was operative, According to Symons and all those interviewed by him, no boxes were placed "on a mule cart" as Essex claimed. The resupply was organised through the frontline companies themselves sending back men in twos and threes, which is precisely why Symons concluded that " absolutely no arrangements WHATSOEVER ( my emphasis) for bringing up spare ammunition."
The conclusion drawn is that Penn Symonds, in his attempt to unravel the truth in this and many other aspects, finds Essex's report wanting. As I have said before, a real possibility exists of Essex,nicknamed "lucky") inflating (puffing) his role to ensure that the authorities were aware that he did not fail in his duty. This is certainly not an isolated case. Witness Crealock and others who were not backwards in bending the truth to suit their own ends.

Steve: Suggest you contact Martin Everett at Brecon with regard to Penn Symons report. Martin kindly helped us during our research of ZV.

23rd May 2004Bill Cainan

Frank Emery produced an (edited) version of Penn Symons' account under the heading "the 24th Regiment at Isandhlwana" in 1978. You can obtain a copy from the SWB Museum at Brecon via the link in the "Shop" - mind you it costs a £1 ! It'as listed as "Isandlwana" by Frank Emery.

23rd May 2004steve
thanks for your response,i will take your advice and purchase hill of the sphinx.
peter and bill,
many thanks,i think i have a few shillings left
on the drum,so i will purchase a copy of
penn symons account,and digest at length.
great thread much food for thought,
and as this is the 62nd entry it rivals that of the ammo debate thread recently posted,
speaks for itself i spose.
thanks again,
best regards
24th May 2004Graham Alexander

To continue with the "flaws" in the statement of Essex, you state that there is a general disagreement by all those interviewed, with the loading of ammunition on a mule cart. Essex makes it quite clear (twice in his Times letter) that he did assist in the loading and distribution of boxes of ammunition. He confirms that " In loading the latter I helped the Quartermaster of the 2nd battalion 24th to place the boxes in the cart". If that event did not take place, then Essex would be walking on dangerous ground by making this claim, knowing that Smith-Dorrien who had survived and was also working in the distribution of ammunition, would become aware of his statement. Maybe the vehicle in question was possibly not a mule cart, but It is inconceivable that Essex would deliberately lie about such a claim. He was an officer and a gentleman and to invent such an event would have been inconcievable to him. If he wished to "puff" up his role of importance, then I would have thought that he may have elaberated on his command and defence of Helpmekaar after the retreat and bring that to the notice of the authorities. He does not even mention the fact.The letter published in the Times was sent originally to his family and given by THEM to the paper for publication. It is in that letter that he elaborates on his action during the day and not his official report.
I have read his journal covering the 1st Boer war and he does not even mention his participation in two major battles. I have also been given access to some of his private correspondence, and it becomes clear in those letters that he was a sensitive and caring man.
The fact that several different people may see or interprete events differently does not mean that one of them is wrong. Essex put forward his view of events and if that view differed from others, I am sure that basically the facts are correct.
24th May 2004Peter Quantrill
I am merely echoing what Symons stated."Several different people" did not do the interpretation.It was done by interviewing most of the survivors which would include Imperial, Colonial and no doubt Tommy Aitken. So one is left to ponder why the views of so many are as one against Essex. Symons was not asked to report on Helpmekaar, only Isandlwana and RD. Incidently, I never said that there was a general disagreemen by all those interviewed on the loading of the mule carts.What I did say, is that is what Symons was possibly alluding to. That was my conclusion, not that of Symons. In any event, what cannot be argued is that there was general disagreement and consensus on Essex's report not being in keeping with the views of so many. As Symons did not spell it out we shall never really know, but disagreement there was.
24th May 2004MIke McCabe
I have always thought that there was a very genuine problem with ammunition supply from the earliest stages of the battle. Namely, that it was not supplied forward and distributed fast enough to enable the rifle coys to maintain enough volume of effective fire to stop their positions being rushed, penetreated or outflanked by the Zulus. If they had indeed been adequately supplied to fire across their company arcs of fire, then at least two considerations emerge. Firstly, that fire was not very effective (which could have been caused by a variety of factors) and that 'arithmetic' (capable of being the subject of statistical modelling and modern 'Operational Analysis') defeated them. Secondly, it might tend to support the theory that for the greater part of the defence of the camp, the Zulus were prevented from advancing towards the front and flanks of mutually companies, but not to their wider flanks and rear - especially where Isandlwana crag provided a covered approach. A combination of both themes seems most likely. Ammunition was probably being delivered fast enough, and in adequate volumes. Perhaps, it was not being fired fast enough, or to good enough effect. Either way 'an ammmunition problem'.
I also do not subscribe to the idea that only details mentioned in primary sources actually happened. The corollary to that would be that if it was not recorded, therefore it did not happen. Hardly a basis for assessment or analysis!

24th May 2004Graham Alexander

I am not familiar with all the statements of evidence taken by Symons, but can only base my opinions around the men actually working around the ammunition waggons or being close enough to observe some of the activity.
The evidence of Private Williams confirms that he saw mules loaded with ammunition being led by bandsmen to the front line. Essex in his evidence states that " I got such men as were not engaged,bandsmen, cooks, etc to assist me, and sent them up to the line under charge of an officer, and I followed with more ammunition in a mule cart". Would not the men that Private Williams saw be those ammunition bearers, and therefore why should this fact be accepted and yet doubts cast upon the rest of Essex's evidence. Smith -Dorrien makes no mention of him loading mules or carts which leaves Essex as the only officer capable of organising the event. Indeed on page 208 of "Zulu victory" you confirm that
" He also found a mule cart that he loaded with ammunition ".
It is a shame that Symons did not specify the area where he found the evidence of Essex to be contradictory, but the question must be asked - because it does not agree with others, is it wrong? It is well established that a battle witnessed by many will result in various interpretations depending by how much (or little) the participant saw. Frank Emery in his booklet about Symons report admits that few passages of arms remain so clouded with uncertainty. Therefore should an interpretation of events be discredited just because others did not see exactly what happened or observed a variation of the event ? If Symons thought that Essex was out of step with all of the others, then why was his report not commented upon during the court of enquiry or by historians during the last 125 years ?
I must admit that this particular thread of events has raised some fascinating ideas, answers and thoughts.
24th May 2004Peter Quantrill
It was not Symons who thought Essex was out of step as the former was not present. It was the result of the collation of survivors reportsm that puts Essex's report,only on apparantly on one issue, in doubt.The Court of Inquiry was, as is common cause, a farce.Certainly no one would be in a position to contradict anothers evidence, as only statements that were thought relevant by Harness were kept and no cross examination allowed.
Changing the subject, I see no one has taken up the challenge issued by Ron in his communication above!
24th May 2004steve
i have been reading all replies with interest,
in particular the parts concerning symons,
essex and smith dorrien,
And something puzzles me which i dont think
has touched on yet,its complicated i know but bear with me,
essex:"they (mostyn+cavaye?)were now getting short of ammunition,so i went to the camp to get a fresh supply.I got such men as
were not engaged,bandsmen,cooks etc,to assist me,and sent them to the line under an officer,and i followed with more ammunition in a mule cart.In loading the latter i helped the
quartermaster of the 2nd battalion 24th to
place the boxes in the cart,and while doing so the poor fellow was shot dead".
(quartermaster bloomfield)
then we have smith dorrien giving similar
reports,though 40 years apart.
in a letter to his father,two days after the battle,"i was out with the front companies of
the 24th handing them spare ammunition"
more importantly,in his memoires,
"I,having no particular duty to perform in camp
had collected camp stragglers,such as
artillerymen,in charge of spare horses,
officers servants,sick etc,and had taken them to the ammunition boxes,where we broke them open as fast as we could and kept sending the packets out to the firing line"

smith dorrien also said,"bloomfield , the
quartermaster of the 2nd/24th,said to me in regard to the boxes i was breaking open,
"for heavens sake,dont take that,man for it belongs to our battalion"and i replied"hang
it all,you dont want a requisition now do you"

if bloomfield was shot dead in essexs presence,then smith dorriens famous
conversation must have taken place prior to this event,yet essex does not report that
bloomfield berated him in the same manner
he berated smith dorrien,and its pretty certain that the companies essex wants ammunition for are both 1st /24th.

if the officer essex says he sent out with ammunition was smith dorrien,this would mean that smith dorrien had allready rounded up camp casuals,and resupplied the line
once ,(because he cant come back and have a converstaion with bloomfield whose shot in essexs presence) if not then it would have been in essexs presence that smith dorrien was berated,yet again essex makes no mention,and smith dorrien makes no mention of bloomfield being shot in his own
why didnt essex name this officer he sent to the line he was quite particular about everything else,surely the
mess was a relatively small place,and faces and names were known ,or perhaps
their was another reason?
and being smith dorriens superior,essex
would have no problem in naming him.

each makes a similar case for collecting camp stragglers,bandsmen etc,each makes
a case for delivering ammunition,both of them
at quartermaster bloomfields wagon,both
collecting ammunition for soldiers other than 2/24th.,yet neither bump into each other,and
just how many camp stragglers bandsmen grooms does a camp have?

simple,smith dorrien resupplied the line,to an
extent ,by "thrusting packets"and
"breaking open boxes"
essex did not
symons was right to be suspicious
25th May 2004David Alan Gardner
Sorry for the delay in replying, this thread has become a lot more interesting in my absence.
Julian, to be honest I don't think you are the military type, you take an academic approach and that's laudible.It's clear you have read widely, and are an expert.I would now expect you to come and tell just what a military mind you have, but I don't suppose you'll change my mind.You will attempt to win a debate at any cost!(I noticed that in the Pulleine thread!),

You see to win the argument for arguments sake is not enough, you haven't convinced me with assurances that ammuntion wasn't a problem
I wrote what I felt about the battle, and I am heartened that many others more subject knowledge than myself have more or less concurred with what I said eg Mike McCabe who put more succinctly than I, exactly my thought's and doubt's utilising different words than my own.

He has come to the conclusions he has done after much study on the subject. offering other interesting ideas, but basically he is saying what I was thinking and trying to elaborate here.When he mentions that (the ammo) was not being fired fast enough or to good enough effect......Either way an ammuntion problem" -is telling.
Julian, again excuse me, but if I may say so I think you are too interested in telling us Morris was wrong in TWOTS the way it happened.I think we accept that account was incorrect, but the ammo supply problem still exists.
Perhaps it was too much the idea of camp defence that was fixed in Pulleines mind.For me, despite the what ammo had been fired, despite the holding of the dead ground, the clock was ticking.The scale of the attack was a shock to the system of the British camp command.
Initially content at holding of the Zulus at a distance, they were unaware of the outflankng manoeuvre that was so imperceptibly taking place at first.All credit to the Zulus.I say this in all knowlege of British awareness of Zulu tactics.

They did not realise the potential energy of this giant mass of men could make that could "eat them" all of a sudden in a giant leap forward. What a shock for the imperial troops to move from confidence of holding on, to utter defeat in so short a time.
The problem with your approach notwithstanding all the benefits of your examnination of the survivor's accounts, is that you are unable to take this as a basis to develop move forward .You get stuck and cannot move forward.
I acknowled you are widely read on the subject, and that Academic is a kinder word to use than "bookworm"-apologies for that, it clearly upset you-but I was trying to show the contrast in your academic approach as against military minded me, if I can use such a loose term-I'm thinking here people llike Bill Cainan mIke McCabe and others(hope they don't mind me using uch description), who me at least-are military in their thinking and it stands out.

Finally, you mention Durnford-again, we are into semantics Julian.You say that " a commander sends back for ammuntion well before he runs short well er.....yes he does. Yet your idea is that ammo supply was very structured and took into account the fluidity of what was happening, and the sheer scale of what they were up against does not come across.I believe British forces were taken so completely by surprise that ammo supply/volume of fire had to be a problem. British forces, including Durnford had fired much more than they could ever have anticipated, and yet, and this is crucial-it still wasn't nearly enough.However Julian, you talk about replenishment "well before (a commander) runs short" er...yes , however the rate of fire in which they had engaged was far greater than ever could ever have been imagined To my mind, Durnford was lost to the blood haze of battle and knew he was going to die there.He couldn't ever get enough.

Perhaps you are in a sense too close to the subject you are unable to thoerise in the manner of others, being necessary to deal with the unknowns and mystery of the battle.

An example of this at it's best is Peter Quantril's critique of Essex.I was fascinated to read what he wrote-I had not read the Penn Symons report although was aware of it.However look what Peter does!- he makes us aware of what was written officially, then comes up with his own thoughts on Essex, and I've must say ithey are entirely plausible and convincing.To me , he is making sense here and I would go along with him.

That is a perfect way to develop the theories of diaster at Isandlwana-and NOT by rejecting everything that is not in black and white.
25th May 2004David Alan Gardner
for military minded me read "military minded men"
25th May 2004Graham Alexander

What a fascinating battle Isandlwana is- you can choose your own facts and interprete them as you wish. Can I suggest an alternative version to the events which you mention. I very strongly suspect that Smith-Dorrien was the unnamed officer who went forward with the ammunition to the front line. I would also suggest that S.D. did actually arrive at the ammunition wagons first and gathered together some men to break open the boxes. This is probably the time that he was berated by Quartermaster Bloomfield. When Essex arrived on the scene, he would have taken command of the action as he was the senior officer present. He never claimed to have rounded up any of the men personally, but only "used such men to assist him". Both mules and a cart were loaded with ammunition, but the mules would have been ready first. As the ammunition was urgently needed, Essex would have naturally sent them off immediatly, probably under the control of S.D. Essex and Bloomfield would have remained loading the cart, and it could have been during this action that Bloomfield was shot. S.D. would have been unaware of the event as he was on his way to the front line, where he " Handed them spare ammunition ". Essex would have then accompanied the mule cart once it was loaded.
There was nothing devious in Essex's report by not naming S.D. as the officer involved. Essex did not name the officer in command who sent him back for ammunition, although this would have probably been Captain Mostyn who was senior in rank to Captain Essex and therefore the officer in command.
Quartermaster Bloomfield may have taken a liberty by berating a mere Lieutenant, but would not have been so beligerant in the presence of a Captain. Perhaps Bill Cainan can give an insight into the power of a Quartermaster and who he can shout at ?
Hopefully this scenario may make you reconsider your opinion about this maligned Captain and maybe agree that events can have many interpretations.
26th May 2004steve
graham ,i appreciate what you say,my
comments on essex were purely an opinion,
which perhaps i put a little to strongly,but
there were others who pondered essexs
report,notably penn symons,who had gathered reports from survivors within days.

i take on board your point as to essex being senior officer present,but the wagon,as i had pointed out to me earlier ,was loaded and
ready to move should chelmsford require it,
would essexs orders have then taken priority over those previously issued,by clery to pulleine re the readying of the wagon?.

perhaps you would give me your opinion on the timings of smith dorrien and essexs
ammo retrieval.
mostyn and cavaye retire to the bottom of the hill,essex does to,he says himself,that
shortly he goes for ammunition.
now this has to be relatively early in the fight,
thus if smith dorrien collected ammo prior to
that then it must have been even earlier in the fight,this partially nullifies the khambula
arguement ,ie 33 rounds expended on average ,pointed out by another contributor,and used as an indicator of ammunition expenditure at isandlwhana,
where the men carried app 70 rounds per man,and reinforces the arguement that
relatively early in the fight companies were
low on ammunition and getting lower.

others disagree and say that an officer in the field ensures his supply,but ,as you say smith dorriens visit to the ammunition wagon was earlier than essexs,perhaps at the same time as mostyn,cavaye and essex are retiring to the bottom of the hill,my point being hsd
says he broke open the cases as "fast as we
could"and kept sending the packets out to the line,he puts urgency into his words,there
is pressure behind his actions.
hsd i dont beleive took a mule cart to the line,
because heis quite explicit in saying,he took
casuals to the wagons and broke boxes open and sent the packets to the line.......
no mention of a cart,but of opened boxes
and packets.
simeon kambulas sorty to the same wagon,
finds a little boy posted their(bloomfield dead)even the boy will not issue cartridges,
will not leave his post,even though the zulus are in the tents only yards away.
kambula notices loose cartridges on the
ground"men who had come for cartridges were in such haste to fill their belts,they
dropped many on the ground"(rev:owens report)were these the residue of smith dorriens broken boxes?

to summarize,men went to the line with 70 rounds each,enough to anhialate the zulus
twice,so ammunition should not be a problem
but we have essex(?)supplying mostyn and cavaye early in the fight,we have smith dorrien breaking open boxes and sending packets to the line,even earlier in the fight,
we also have 2men of the 24th and a sgt of
lonsdales troop coming in for ammunition,
and taking two boxes,(re julian)and durnford
sends three times for ammunition,simeon kambula notes our cartridges were nearly done,then later our cartridges were quite done,and our officer then ordered retire.
we also have davies scavaging half a box of ammunition from the carbineers camp,but on
his return to durnford he finds they have allready retired.
some will say they were doing what they were supposed to,resupply ammunition,but it seems to me that the way in which they
variously describe their actions and situations,leaves one with a feeling that they
were doing it as a matter of urgency,bar essex,who seemed ,collected,in the heat of
battle,remembers bloomfields name,and
includes it in his report,but makes no mention of smith dorrien,his subordinate,
and vice verca.remembering that hsd was so specific in his memoirs.
their is something not quite right re essex,
best regards

26th May 2004Melvin Hunt
This is indeed what debate is all about. A little too personal in places but, so be it.
I'm not sure how relevant this is, but when I was at Isandlwana, a local Zulu (who was NOT a guide), told me that a large group of the Impi managed to close with the companies (just before the retreat bugle sounded) by crawling, unseen, on their "bellies" through the long grass. That, and not ammunition failure, would explain why the collapse of the firing line and the final Zulu rush happened so quickly. Couple that with the zulu regiments who outflanked Durnford and not forgetting the regiments who overwhelmed Shepstone and then entered the camp from the nek, and perhaps the ammunition failure theory is not quite so relevant. The British were just spread too far. Simple as that!
The sounding of the bugle , the retreat and simultaneous Zulu rush is, to my mind, too easily over looked.
26th May 2004John Young

Before any of the military-wallahs pulls you up, the bugle call was "the retire" not 'retreat'.

Too far & too thin, against overwhelming odds with a home advantage.

John Y.
26th May 2004Graham Alexander

I think that everyone will agree that despite their own opinions about the battle, timings of events once the battle had commenced are next to impossible to confirm. There was no wristwatches, private soldiers were unlikey to carry a pocket watch and officers engaged in their duty would probably not have time to check what time an event occured.
Smith-Dorrien, as you state, mentions sending out packets of ammunition to the line. My own opinion is that this would be a mere drop in the ocean. What the troops needed was boxes full of ammunition and not the odd packet. Hence the necessity for mules +/ or carts.
You also say that did Essex have sufficient authority to raid the loaded ammunition wagons. Remember that S.D had already started this process, and the urgent necessity for ammunition would have overridden any previous orders of Clery.
Why should Essex remember Bloomfields name in his report ? I would have thought that a mans brains suddenly splattering over you when you are working next to him would be a memorable moment, and this event gives further evidence that the loading of the mule cart WAS taking place. You do not invent a moment like that despite no other witnesses seeing it.
Finally, you mention that S.D. is specific in his memoirs with names. The luxury of sitting behind a desk leisurely recalling names and events was not afforded to Essex. His report was written within two days of the event. He never expected that every word he had written would be scrutinised for years to come. His lack of naming S.D. could also come from the rigid class system of the time. Smith-Dorrien was only a lieutenant and an assistant to Captain Essex. The Victorian army strongly recommended that junior officers did not even try to talk to senior officers until many months after their arrival within the regiment. It is quite likely that Essex was merely reflecting this attitude, which we today do not understand.
26th May 2004David Alan Gardner

Very interesting and well summarised.

That story of the Zulus creeping up rings true doesn't it?
As for the British being spread too thin, nobody will diagree with that (perhaps!)
26th May 2004Peter Ewart
Smith-Dorrien's memoirs - or, at least, the AZW chapter with which the book begins - are, like most senior military reminiscences of the time, presented in the most bland and even anodyne way and I get a very strong impression - just as I do when reading those of Grenfell about the same war - that they are dredging up vague memories of long ago and that these writings should not be relied upon too heavily.

S-D went into print ostensibly to leave his sons with a memoir but surely, in reality, to put his side of the Le Cateau affair into the public domain. I would consider anything S-D wrote or said in early 1879 (report and letter) as more reliable than his memoirs on the AZW over 40 years later.

26th May 2004Julian Whybra
Steve 24th
Essex would have gone to the 1st bn ammo waggon (QM Pullen i/c) for resupplying Cavaye and Mostyn. Smith-Dorrien’s conversation was with the 2nd bn ammo QM Bloomfield.
I believe that the officer Essex put in charge of the carts could have been S-D but it could have been another ‘spare’ officer like Hon Maj White.
David Alan 25th
You are incorrect in my not having been at one time a ‘military type’ and
my mind can most certainly be changed - indeed it has been much so in the past about Isandhlwana around 1979 from the Morris view to the Jackson interpretation of events.
Neither will I win a debate at any cost. The Pulleine family descendants have the last word on how to pronounce their own surname, not me.
I have not offered ‘assurances’ that ammo supply was not a problem. I’ve tried to supply evidence to support my view and I have asked others to do likewise.
In terms of ignoring factual evidence and having a more emotional ‘touchy-feely’ view about the battle you are probably right about me. If one wants one’s views to be taken seriously by historians then one has to produce historically-acceptable evidence and not gut feelings. However, as for theorizing you are wrong, provided theorizing is based on something solid and viable. Indeed, if I were to cast historical facts aside and go with the flow, then I would still not find enough to support an ammunition problem. Why? Well, if there had been a failure of ammo or of supply of a general nature such as Mike McCabe suggests then these would have emerged in the mouths of those who survived the day and their accounts would be peppered liberally with references to it. The very fact that, in order to find such references, supporters of the ammo failure theory have to scratch around with ‘interpretations’ of what was written suggests to me that it could not have been uppermost in the minds of the survivors and did not count with them – especially with Tommy Atkins (who invariably knew what the real trouble was when the officers were oblivious to it and was not afraid to voice it in his letters). Yet it is in the accounts of the Atkinses – the very men who wielded the Martini-Henry from the six 1/24th Ptes. Williams to the IMI ptes – that one finds no trace of remarks like ‘low ammunition’/ ‘where were the ammo carriers’. Instead one finds the opposite.
Neither am I ‘stuck’ over the ammo controversy – it is just that I feel it is irrelevant (until proven otherwise) – and that Chelmsford’s recommended troop disposition is to blame for the disaster and would still have been the cause even if every soldier had his own personal box of ammo! The very fact that Chelmsford tried to smother the existence of the ‘Instructions’ is an indication of what he felt was the true cause of the disaster. The fact that he never again adopted his own recommendations on troop dispositions also indicates this.
Regarding what Peter Q wrote about Essex. Yes, he made us aware of what Symons (not Symonds by the way) wrote and came up with his own thoughts as a result. But others then pointed out that Symons’s report was lacking in several areas, was written over a year later and, though based on what survivors said to him, does not name the survivors, nor specifically when he spoke to them. Others then were able to say that Peter Q’s views about Essex did not correspond with what was known about him subsequently which casts doubt on Peter Q’s thoughts such as to make them implausible and unconvincing, the very opposite to what you found.
A good historian does not reject everything that is not in black and white but he does look at the viability of the theory and how it stands up to known evidence. Tautologically, it has to hold water to float.
Finally you have been quite free in your opinions as to what you think my problems are in not being able to get close to the debate and to theorize. I have not responded in like fashion but I would suggest that you read the sources for yourself so that you have something concrete on which to base both your own and to assess others’s theories.
PS Apology and olive branch accepted.
Melvin 26th
I agree that the last almost desperate rush of the Zulus is of paramount importance, and as a consequence of the troop dispositions, supplies the Zulus with their victory (if I may be permitted to theorize).
John 26th
I agree.
Peter E 26th
I agree.
26th May 2004Graham Alexander

An interesting point about Quartermaster Pullen. Logically he would have been the correct Quartermaster for Essex to go to in order to resupply the 1/24th companies of Cavaye and Mostyn. It is puzzling that Essex refers to the 2/24th Quartermaster in both his official report and private correspondence. Do you know of any evidence which would indicate why this anomaly may have occured, or would it possibly have been a case of any port in a storm and Bloomfield was just nearer to him ?
26th May 2004Keith Smith

Congratulations on a very fine debate. I don't necessarily agree with everything that has been written here, as you may have observed, but the quality and persistence of the arguments has been quite outstanding. Take a bow, all of you. And John Laband said there was nothing more to write about the Zulu war. What nonsense!

26th May 2004steve
did it again............
in my last post(irony?) i wrote (rev:owens)
it should of course read
(the reverand owen watkins)
am i in error ref essex seeing bloomfield
shot dead in front of him,as they together load
a mule cart with ammunition,or are you
suggesting essex made an error in his
report. As graham points out above,it is
27th May 2004steve
graham 26th.
i understand what you say with regards to
timings,we will never know exactly the
sequence or length of time each sub plot
their are certain factors known about timings
the discovery of the main impi,durnfords
arrival,the eclipse,the shifting of one of the guns to fire at the left horn,what milne saw
and apparantly mistook from the mangeni,
etc.....each forms a piece of the whole,and it
is possible knowing the above, to make an educated guess with a small margin for error.
yes i know history is not about guessing,
neither is it about dismissing theory without
offering an alternative,otherwise einstein would would only have stamped mail in vienna.

i agree the need was for boxes as
opposed to packets,but what they got from sd was packets,not boxes and not mules.

i agree the need for mules and carts,they
were in camp,because they were seen milling around,sd didnt have one,the two
24th men and lonsdales man didnt have one,
so where were they?and if they were allready on the line,it brings me back to a previous post about the length of time mules trotting
along the line took ,and confirms my opinion
that mules and carts should have been,but were not sufficient.

yes bloomfields brains on your coat would imprint on the memory,but i cant agree that
due to victorian military etiquette lowly
officers with less than six months service
cannot talk to their superiors,what kind of
system is that to build an empire on,and in
any event,surely the officers mess would
have been a mighty quiet place .

sd wrote a letter to his father within 48 hours
of the battle,saying he was handing out ammunition,and even 40 years later he was
still relatively middle aged as opposed to in his dotage with memory gone.
ive seen older actors on tv who remember lines from films perfectly well,and remember
churchill becoming prime minister late in life.

essex may well have done what he said he did,i only theorise that he may not,you are
right their were no witnesses to the event,
except possibly smith dorrien,who doesnt
aknowledge it,and essex who doesnt name
the officer he sent to the line.

best regards

27th May 2004Keith Smith

I wonder how you can be certain about times at Isandlwana, or anywhere else for that matter, in 1879. According to a note I received from HM Almanac Office a couple of years ago, the time of the eclipse was 2.36, yet the Natal Almanac gives the time as 2.29. Why? Apart from the better accuracy these days, and the first time is for Isandlwana and the second for Pietermaritzburg, the whole question of 'local' time was greatly inaccurate in 1879. The concept of International Times Zones was not be adopted until the International Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884, and even then the French insisted on using Paris until 1911! Local time in Durban was 2 hours 13 minutes earlier than London time. Here is a story of Sir Garnet Wolseley and the 'time' in Pietermaritzburg:

"For many years the city of Pietermaritzburg, known as “Sleepy Hollow” to its rivals of another and, in its own opinion, a busier town, had set all its clocks and watches, and regulated all its business hours by the sound of a gun, fired daily from Fort Napier at nine o’clock A.M., the signal for which came from the town itself. The gun was frequently credited with being too fast or slow by a few seconds or even minutes, and on one occasion was known to have been wrong by half an hour; a mistake which was remedied in the most original fashion, by setting the gun back a minute and a half daily till it should have returned to the proper time; to the utter confusion of all the chronometers in the neighbourhood." (F.E. Colenso, History of the Zulu War and its Origin).

As to Durnford's arrival, there are no less than 10 different times, or ranges of times, in the sources, varying between 10 and 11 a.m. Most people have therefore averaged it out to 10.30 and used that (David Jackson, for example).

How can you also suggest that the time of the discovery of the Zulu army is known? No one cites a time for that, although the "Stand to" at noon indicates that the discovery took place a little before then. But was the time of noon correct, in view of what I have just said.

There was no noon-day gun in the field, and pocket watches then were notoriously inaccurate. Why else do we have Captain MacGregor saying at Eshowe during the siege "I’m making a sundial now, as we often get out of our time reckoning." (Letter to Colonel Home, Intelligence Branch, War Office, quoted in Sonia Clarke, Zululand at War, Houghton, 1984, p. 148. This section of the letter was dated 28th March.) One of the duties of an ADC was to keep track of time: "Then I had to find the variation of my compass, rate my watch, fix the latitude, and draw maps." (Major-General W.C.F. Molyneux, Campaigning in South Africa and Egypt, London, 1898, p. 154.)

No, I think you might have to re-think your notions about the time on 22nd January 1879. Sorry to be so long-winded, but the question of times in the AZ war needs a lot more study.

27th May 2004Peter Quantrill
Symons report was not written a year later. Page 2, dated 21st January 1880, indicates that it had already been read by Victoria, together with a note that she wished the report supressed unti after Chelmsford's death. Page 3 reflects the words, " written at Rorke's Drift February, March/ April '79. Again, to repeat myself, Symons findings were as a result of interviewing survivors i.e. primary source. " His account although most clear and circumstancial, is not the same as given by MANY OTHER SURVIVORS." ( My capitals.) This is a statement of fact and is indisputable. Yes, it is a pity that he did not identify his source. So one either believes Essex or the overwhelming primary source ranged against him. To make matters worse, one cannot pinpoint the difference that Symons is alluding to --- but differnces there were.
Ammo Distribution Failure:
Symons reiterates the failure of the ammunition supply and confirms that the only way that additional ammo was provided was by " our men began running backwards and forwards by twos and threes for ammunition." He does confirm that " officers in camp were serving it out and carrying it to the front" but obviously not in sufficient quantities. The theory of mule driven carts actually delivering the boxes to the line is contentious. They may well have been loaded unopened but did they arrive?
Put oneself in the position of being a company commander, Mostyn or Cavaye. His platoons are flanking his Coy. H.Q. on either side. The men are uncomfortably stretched. The platoon commanders are desparately trying to exert both fire control and fire discipline. They started firing on Tahalene Ridge with less than 70 rounds. Are they going to wait for resupply and hope it arrives? Not men of the calibre of Mostyn and Cavaye. They would order men back to obtain resupplies, in addition to hoping that ammo would arrive from base.Let us now presume that the mule carts arrive at both Coy. H.Q's. Both Mostyn and Cavaye would be more than a tad irritated to have unopened boxes dumped and have to detail men to open them with some rapidity to resupply the line.
And so we come back to the question of a blow or kick being all that was required to open a box.Simple - no problem. Bot this theory has a problem as Ron has pointed out. Some years ago he reconstructed a duplicate box made out of the same type of wood and specification. Numerous kicks resulted in a bruised toe.Ron ownes a Martini which was used to no avail apart from denting the butt plate.Eventually a 9 lb hammer did the trick after a few blows.So it is understandable that we do not subscribe to the "one kick or blow with a Martint butt" theory.
The view remains that there was a supply problem. Why would companies send men back as is evidencd, if the companies did not perceive that a shortage situation was in the offing? In order to ensure that volleys and firing at will were not jeopodised, strict fire control was probably implimented, but this is conjecture.
27th May 2004Graham Alexander

You must try to understand the mind of the Victorians to understand their obsession with class and social standing. To them it was a case of continually trying to better themselves and therefore rise to a higher position and class in life. You say that you can't agree that lowly officers were not allowed to chat to their superiors. May I suggest that you obtain a copy of " For Queen and Country " by Byron Farwell, which should open your eyes to what was meant by the division of classes. He writes " A newly commissioned officer was taken in hand by the senior subaltern, from whom he learned the traditions and tabus of the regiment. Usually a new subaltern was not expected to speak unless spoken to, and in some regiments he was strongly advised not to express an opinion on anything during his first two or three years " If you find that hard to believe, then remember that the scocial gulf between an officer and a private soldier was considered to be one of the widest in the country !
I think that Peter Ewart has correctly summarised the Smith-Dorrien memoirs for you correctly, and I am endebted to Keith Smith for his well composed reply about times. I could never have replied with such clarity.
27th May 2004steve
david 25th
thanks david,but you know the old saying,
infinate number of monkeys etc,
best regards

keith 27th
their are a number of pointers to times which
i am sure would make a great new thread,
the report from col pulleine timed 8.05,
receipted by hallam parr at 9.30.
delivery time from isandlwhana to mangeni
assuming that hallam parr and col pulleines watches are relatively synchronized.
chelmsford sends milne and penn symons
up the hill next to the campsite to observe,
he would no doubt have done this within 15mins receipt of the message.
perhaps when others are visiting the mangeni
they could time the ascent of the hill,this then
gives us a fairly good idea of what time milne
saw the cattle moved en masse into the camp.

the royal astronomical society should be able
to retrospectively provide the exact time of the
eclipse,together with sun up and sunset on
22jan 1879,thus we have our framework.

hamilton brown on the plain,"at about eleven
o clock"etc then "looking through my glasses
i saw a puff of smoke rise from the hills on the left of the camp,it was followed by another"
this indicates both 7 pdrs are in action,at
least by eleven,and possibly earlier.

hamilton browne says to chelmsford that the camp was taken at about 1.30pm

i have only chosen a few at random,and
i need to do more poking about keith ,and i
will,but the framework is their to put the times to ,and given time ,i am sure a relatively
accurate picture can be shown.
when i have more relevant information and
a scenario that holds water,i hope to start
a new thread.
i hope you will lend your thoughts to it,
best regards

27th May 2004David Aln Gardner
Put that way, faulty troop dispostion being the cause- most of us can agree with that
That it led to the ammo shortage is the contentious issue,and thus far, especially after reading the quality of Peter Quantrill's post which is excellent.I have to disagree also with the idea if you give each man a box of ammo, then defeat would still occur.I would't have thought so, fire volume would be increased dramatically with almost continuous fire in which the Zulu's would have been forced to leave or be annihilated.
Oh the Pulleine bit-I was referrring to Angus MacW !(post since disappeared!)

Peter Q
Excellent bit of writing, I had no idea there was still a bone of contention over the ammo boxes.No matter what way you look at it, the smooth supply of ammo seems very doubtful.
Firstly with the debate over the account of Essex.
Did the ammo actually get where it was going.The idea of ferrying in dribs and drabs is the worst of my fears.What a restriction of firepower that would cause, imposing the need for even greater fire control by the officers.Bit like fighting with one arm tied behind your back.
Peter you question whether the mules actually got to their destination.Further, even if they got there, they still had to be opened, then distributed, all the while firing is taking place.
Heavy points to ponder
I think with the sense of urgency pointed out earlier by Steve
28th May 2004Keith Smith
David, 27th

I am inclined to agree with Julian about the ammunition supply, which I have tended to regard as somewhat irrelevant. When one considers the number of men in the line, and the ground over which they were spread, Donald Morris' words still ring true: "Pulleine was about to defend a large amount of unnecessary real estate." Both Zulu horns outflanked the British line and the end, considering the extent of the firing line, was inevitable. Had he, as instructed, "drawn in his defences", then they might well have had a better chance.
28th May 2004Graham Alexander
When you consider the matter of the amunition boxes, the more likely it is that they were probably loaded unopened. If the boxes had been opened prior to their journey up to the troops, just how much would have arrived after being jolted around on the backs of mules, or bounced about in ammunition carts. I think that the subject of just how quickly a box could be opened should also include how much of its contents would be lost if it was transported in an opened state ?
The matter of the troops having to open the boxes whilst maintaining their fire and how quickly they could do it, now really becomes important.
28th May 2004David Alan Gardner

I think the timesof eclipse have already been done,do a search to come up with the earlier thread.


Yes I think the troop dispositions are primarily to blame, the cause as Julian said, being Chelmsford's plan for recommended troop disposition in the event of attack. Standing "shoulder to shoulder" as per Melvill's quote would probably have saved the day.

I believe there were ammo/fire volume problems, but of course this is secondary to the former mentioned faulty positioning.It was interesting to read Peter's mention of the Queen's wish to suppress the report which left questions over Chelmsford -who of course enjoyed Royal patronage.
28th May 2004Julian Whybra
Sorry, work has again prevented me from keeping abreast of the debate, so to catch up…
Graham/Steve 26th
Though I raised the issue in the first place it does seem more likely that Essex went to Bloomfield because of proximity rather than Pullen. Perhaps the QMs had an ‘arrangement’
for redressing the ammunition balance post eventum.
Keith 26th
I don’t think anyone really subscribed to John Laband’s observance.
Steve 27th
My word, you do dash around in your questioning! In fact, the questions you raise are so interrelated, they are impossible to answer individually. So, you get a composite response which I hope covers everything and responds to several other contributors at the same time.
At the start of an action the bandsmen would be assigned to their ‘battle stations’. Some would be allocated as ammo carriers and told off to their various coys. When ammo was required they would be sent back to get it (as witnessed by Higginson). Of course the “two 24th men” didn’t have a cart ; they didn’t take an unladen vehicle out to the lines to start with! They were coming back with orders to get ammo. When they arrived at the bn ammo waggon they would load carts and take them back to the lines (as witnessed and participated in by Essex). It was not for junior subalterns to break with procedure, break open the regtl reserve (intended for Chelmsford) and dole out packets to soldiers (what Smith-Dorrien did). No wonder Bloomfield ‘reprimanded’ him; it was inefficient and unhelpful.
A battalion had well-rehearsed and laid-down practices to be followed re ammunition supply under battle conditions. Was this carried out? We have no reason to suppose it wasn’t. What we do have is Pte. Wilson 1/24th (as quoted above) telling us is was. And he was there. And he witnessed it in action. And we have other witnesses to ammunition supply being enacted in the manner intended.
We have Capt. Symons saying no such thing was organized. And he wasn’t there. His report is based on survivors’ testimony but we don’t know which survivors he spoke to. No survivor’s recorded testimony bears any resemblance to the picture Symons paints.
Whom do we believe?
Symons’s report has been much quoted above so let me quote another passage:
“It will be here necessary to examine and note the last observed incidents that happened before the final rush [as first mentioned by John Young above] of the enemy….The universal testimony is that up to the last moment no-one believed for an instant that there was the slightest danger of the camp being taken; there was no sign of hesitation or fear for the result, no thought of wavering, everyone kept steadily to his work of firing and fighting.”
In other words no-one was panicking about ammo supply or doubted the day’s outcome UNTIL the final rush of the Zulus, which was what caused the collapse of the perimeter, the surrounding of the soldiers in companies and groups, until they were overwhelmed. It could be argued that IF each coy had its own inexhaustible ammo supply permanently with it, then, once surrounded, they could have gone on firing indefinitely. I doubt it. They would have been overwhelmed by force of numbers eventually.
Earlier in the discussion one contributor remarked, “Just because no-one mentions ammunition failure, one can’t assume it didn’t happen.” The same rule applies to the opposing argument. Just because no-one formally mentions regulation resupply procedures by ammunition carts, one can’t assume it didn’t happen. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
There is no such thing as history on the hoof. Making it up as we go along and looking for the bits of evidence to support the story whilst ignoring others does not end up with viable and academically-acceptable historicity. Purely dealing with unknown quantities is fine, provided you incorporate the known.
With regard to timings and to inter-officer I concur with Keith.
Peter 27th
I would want to come back to you over certain points once I have checked a few things. However, you wrote:
“The view remains that there was a supply problem.”
My reply is that the view is still unfounded. Indeed, the passage I quoted above from Symons’s report would seem to support me.
“Why would companies send men back as is evidenced…”
It is not evidenced.
“…if the companies did not perceive that a shortage situation was in the offing?”
I repeat what I stated earlier, viz. coy officers would in good time ensure an ammo resupply for their men – there is no hint of panic or concern in the carrying out of this routine procedure.
“In order to ensure that volleys and firing at will were not jeopardized, strict fire control was probably implemented, but this is conjecture.”
I have no doubt that this was the case – indeed, I suspect it was the norm. We know that there were cease fires ordered. And we know the lines moved position at least twice in order to get a better firing position (a strange thing to do if, indeed, there was concern about ammo shortage?). Indeed, there is much to conjecture.
Steve 27th
The exact time of the beginning, height, and end of the eclipse has been recorded elsewhere on the discussion forum.
David Alan 27th
I don’t quite understand how you can write that “faulty troop disposition…led to the ammo shortage”. That doesn’t seem to make sense unless of course you’ve mistyped.
Likewise with “No matter what way you look at it, the smooth supply of ammo seems very doubtful.” What? Nothing has been suggested to indicate the absence of a smooth supply with the sole exception of part of Capt. Symons’s report whilst yet another part, quoted above, seems to indicate that it was not a problem (for details see above in my reply to Steve).
”Did the ammo actually get where it was going?” To apply the same logic as above – just because no-one said it didn’t arrive, doesn’t mean that it didn’t. In fact, is there any survivor that makes a point of saying “ammunition did not arrive”. No, there isn’t (with the possible exception of Henderson’s NNH troop to whom it arrived eventually if late).
“The idea of ferrying in dribs and drabs…” This notion comes from Symons (see above).
“What a restriction of firepower that would cause…” An officer and his NCOs would simply not leave it that late to resupply such that firepower were impaired. And there is no evidence to suggest that it was impaired.
“If they got there, they still had to be opened, then distributed, all the while firing is taking place.” Why do you assume that they arrived unopened? Again, to use another’s premise: just because no-one says they arrived opened, it doesn’t mean they weren’t.
Keith 28th
Thank you. I could do with some support.
Graham 28th
Opened! Why not? With the foil intact across the top (a sort of giant ring-pull) there would have been no loss. Maintaining fire and receiving ammunition from the bandsmen, etc. would be done I imagine in much the same way as it appears in the film Zulu.
28th May 2004Julian Whybra
Sorry Steve, that should read "Pte. Wilson telling us IT was..."
28th May 2004Keith Smith
Sorry, but I am a little confused about this 'regimental reserve' of ammunition, as if it were in one wagon. Surely this is not so. I refer to Regulations: Field Forces in South Africa,Pietermaritzburg, November, 1878, issued by command of L-G Lord Chelmsford.

Quote (part)
77. Ox wagon 4,000lbs [capacity].

86. The Quantity of small arm ammunition to be kept constantly in possession of regiments and detached companies, when in the field, will be at the rate of 270 rounds per man, viz., 70 in possession of each soldier, with a reserve of 200 rounds.

Table I. 8 companies at 2 [ox] wagons each.

Table II. Articles in 2nd Company wagon:
Rations (7 days at 2 1/4 lbs per man per diem (1753 lbs.
Reserve Ammunition 200 rounds per man - 27 [lbs] x 107 me [per company] (2889 lbs)

N.B. In 1st wagon, the equipment is placed on top of valises; in 2nd the rations go above the Ammunition.
In order to equalise weights, a portion of the Reserve Ammunition can if desired be removed from the 1st [?} to the 2nd wagon, but the weight carried by the Ration Wagon will decrease daily.
End quote.

The point I am making is that each company seems to have had its own wagons, presumably parked close to the battalion camp. The QMs (presumably,) thus had charge of a number of wagons, many of which contained ammunition. I am therefore puzzled that only one wagon seems to have been set aside with the 2nd Battalion's reserve ammunition, awaiting the order to be sent out to Chelmsford. Can anyone explain this seeming paradox? And how did the QMs serve out the ammo on demand?

28th May 2004Keith Smith
Sorry about the typos in the last - I hope you can understand what I was quoting.

PS. You might also note that the 1/24th camp was on the right of the Ulundi track, while that of the 2/24th was near the centre of the camp, and the mountain. Thus the wagons for the 1st Batt'n were as far away from the action as they could possibly be. Only Pope (2nd Batt'n) was close enough to his wagons, and ammo, to be helpful, and then only towards the end of the fight. More grist for the mill!]

28th May 2004David Aln Gardner

No, I didn't mistype. With unnecessary additional distance between the ammo and the troops using it, the difficulty in obtaining the ammo was in direct proportion to the increased distance it was transported during battle.
I think there was reason to believe difficulty was encounters with the ammo distribution.The sense of urgency spoken about in the Penn Symons report, HSD's words.Yes I agree with the logic re its' arrival, -but equally it might not have arrived.

Another very interesting remark you make is, and I quote, "it is not for junior subalterns to break for procedure, break open the regtl reserve ans dole out packets to soldiers"
Horace Smith- Dorrien was I feel very much a man of common sense, acting on his instincts and feet.

Why do I say that?- well as most on this forum probably know, he famously later in life disobeyed orders again thank God, at Le Cateau and, holding back the German Sledgehammer of overwhelming force, helping to save the BEF- in the process disobeying French.
Now if HSD was distributing ammo, he must have felt a real pressing need to do so.

Finally, I noticed that you did not reply to Peter Quantrill's post, one of the most interesting on this thread.
Perhaps there are reasons for this, but I would like to have read your reply.
28th May 2004steve
their is evidence from an eye witness to
support the ammunition shortage theory,
smith dorrien.
i dont have a copy of his memoirs,however i
have visited a website that has numerous
web published chapters from his memoirs.
Their are four passages which have
a bearing on ammo supply.
1/ "these wagons might have at any time
been formed into a laager,but no one appeared to appreciate the gravity of the
situation,so much so that NO STEPS WERE
EXTRA AMMUNITION from the large
reserves we had in camp".
2/ "the reader will ask why the fire slackened
and the answer is ,alas because,with
thousands of rounds in the wagons 400yds in

3/"in those days the boxes were screwed down and it was a very difficult job to get them
open,and it was owing to this battle that the
construction of the ammunition boxes was changed"
4/sd then gives his qualified opinion,
"had our magnificent body of men been
entrenched the zulus would have been driven
off,as they were subsequently at kambula,
and even as it was they would have repulsed
the zulus in the open HAD NOT OUR AMMUNITION RUN SHORT".

the emphasies are mine,purely for ease of
purpose for those reading.

other contributors.
people have a tendancy to poo poo smith-
dorriens memoirs,as they were written many
years later,but if any of us had been him on
the day,would we become muddled given the
passage of time,i think not,every second
would be burned into the mind,his first battle
like your first pint,first kiss,or first black eye,
events that stay fresh for a lifetime.
ask yourself,where were you when kennedy
died,when england won the world cup,where
you first met your wife,when the twin towers fell........ask yourself....did smith dorrien
cook the memoirs.
28th May 2004Bill Cainan

Although this debate on a possible ammunition shortage has been most interesting, it might be time to reflect on what the ammunition was being used for. The firing line was expending ammunition to prevent the Zulus from closing to hand-to-hand range, where numbers would have an effect. The fact that the line achieved this, pining the Zulus in the dead ground surely testifies to the fact that there was SUFFICIENT ammunition available. It was only when the order to fall back was given that the status quo was upset and the Zulus were able to close. This order of course, coinciding with the extra push of the Zulu chest Regiments.

Graham 25th - you asked if I could give you an insight as to whom a QM could shout at. It would be a most rare occasion for a QM to be shouting at anybody - normally a few well chosen words, expressed calmly have the desired effect !

28th May 2004David Alan Gardner

I'd forgotten all about that website with HSD'S memoirs which I read some time ago-and how explicitly they refer to ammo! Yes, excellent -How could Horace forget the day when death was so close, so young ??-It would have been etched on his psyche till the sad day he died in the car crash.

So, if we are looking for a primary source, the literal horse's mouth,re ammo problems- here we have it.

Again, there is also reinforcement of what Peter Q said earlier about the ammo boxes when HSD refer's to the change in construction of the boxes.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose
28th May 2004John Young
I have been looking for the culprit who Donald Morris relied on when he had a piece published in 'SOTQ' a few years back - where he stated, incorrectly, about the number of screws that needed to be removed in order to open the ammuniton box. I found the answer in his bibliography, he is in fact quoting the remarks of Lieutenant-Colonel F.E. Whitton, which appeared in the 'Isandhlwana' chapter of his 1930 work 'Service Trials & Tragedies'. Whitton's version of events at Rorke's Drift - which despite certain claims made by the Museum Shop at Brecon & others, was actually published in the 1930's - is I'm sure well known to the followers of this forum, but I don't know how many of you are aware of his piece on Isandlwana?

Here's a couple of paragraphs from it:-
'...the reserve ammunition - and there was no lack of it: at least 400, 000 rounds - was in boxes tightly screwed down (nine screws to each box), and some of these were, later, tightly strapped upon the backs of mules which carried them on the march.'

'In the annals of the British army there is no sadder tale than that of Isandhlwana, for it is abundantly clear that the tragedy need never have occurred. The defenders were slaughtered because their ammunition failed; and there was at hand ammunition in sufficiency to check the attack and to inflict a crushing - and what might indeed have been the final - defeat on the Zulus, had cover also been thrown up.'

Whitton's account of Rorke's Drift has stood the test of time, and still sells to this day. His Isandlwana account, I fear, is however open to question.

John Y.
29th May 2004Julian Whybra
Keith 28th
I was referring the to 2nd bn reserve ammo placed in a waggon specifically for Chelmsford's force's use at his request.
David 28th
I understand the meaning of your sentence now. I'm sorry, I thought you were supporting Peter Q's suggestion that no ammo supply took place at all.
S-D - common sense? And how old was S-D at the time?
I did reply to Peter's comments. Read it again and await. I don't shoot from the hip. What are you implying?
Steve 28th
1) There was no time or manpower to laager - also the waggons were being used constantly. His statement is directly contradicted by the remarks of those who were engaged in such ammunitionissue.
2) S-D was not in the firing line. how can he possibly make such a statement?
3) This has been covered already.
4) Entrnenchment was impossible given the state of the ground.
All this knowledge from a man who'd arrived in camp only that morning.
your last point is purely personal opinion. The evidence from all survivors' accounts is that the passage of time both confused and dulled the memory.
Bill 28th
I agree entirely.
Alan 28th
"How could he forget?" Easily. Read the Stafford and MacPhail accounts for fine examples of how easy it is.
29th May 2004David Aln Gardner
Sorry Julian, I had not seen your brief response to Peter, I was expecting a somewhat expansive response from you.

In your response to Steve, "there was no time or manpower to laager"-wasn't this the excuse that Chelmsford used?-time could have been found.
That S-D was not in the firing line does not matter.He would have been aware what was going on.
That it has been covered already, does not make it less relevant.This is a survivor's account from a man-an officer- who was there.
It doesn't matter how long he was there-how long did he have to be there?-none were there too long, but most ended there forever.
HSD must have had something about him given his later career.
He would not have forgotten the matter of life and death for him, especially for one so young.You know the sayings of pensioners" I can't remember what I did yesterday, but I remember specific dates and events of many years ago.The stimulus to HSD's memory on that day must have been very powerful as a young man, which he would have carried with him all his life. Besides he makes several specific references to the ammo shortage-why would he make this up?
He was not the only one to be contradicted surely?-Essex?
I'm sorry, a man like Smith-Dorrien cannot be dismissed and if he refers to ammo problems, then there was ammo problems.
29th May 2004Julian whybra
The expansive response is to follow. As I wrote, I need to check certain things first though some lements of the answer were contained in aprt in my reply to Steve in the same message.
Re there being no time, opportunity or manpower to laager I was referring explicitly to the morning of the 22nd and the time Pulleine/Durnford was in command. This was the excuse Chelmsford used, you are correct, for not laagering before the morning of the 22nd. To be fair to him, and I'm not usually, he had some justification in this as a reason for not laagering. The column had only just arrived, the camp was too large to surround with waggons and the waggons were to be constantly going back and forth to RD, laden and unladen. As far as Pulleine was concerned on the morning of the 22nd, time could most definitely not have been found. It took 50 men to manhandle a single waggon and as we know they were all needed elsewhere.
By it has been covered already I implied read elsewhere above in the text (far too much has been repeated already on this subject).
It does matter how long he was there in terms of forming an adequate picture of the camp layout, the defence, the attack, etc.
S-D had a spectacular later career. 'Sopmething about him..?' I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say here but let's look at Churchill young and old. Look at the inexperience and foolhardiness (occasionally) in the River War and the Boer War compared with the judgement and experience of WW2. Ditto Kitchener. Ditto Roberts. Ditto Evelyn Wood.
No, he would not have forgotten a matter of life and death though he would forget details of the day and generalize. I don't want to et into a debate about the psychology of the mind/memory but cf the accounts I referred to and judge for yourself. I'm not saying he made things up but in so far as he saw things from his specific place on the battlefield, it was difficult to interpret what was happening on the front line. I don't see how Essex contradicts him. S-D does not refer to ammo 'problems' in his contemporary account. The references appear in his memoirs and whilst one may not dismiss them they are explicable in terms of the above. Even then, they have no bearing on the final rush of the Zulus and the collapse of the line.
29th May 2004Julian Whybra
Peter Q 27th
Sorry to take a while to respond but I wanted to check a few things first.
Apologies, I should have said that Symons’s document was dated, not written, a year later. However, it was written 3 months later and does contain a number of important errors which cast doubt on his accuracy and on the evidence of those to whom he spoke. Also parts of the report were written after the main account, interpolated at a date unknown (but between April 1879 and January 1880), and it is important to know which, something that can only be done at the moment by viewing the original doc.
You wrote “So one either believes Essex or the overwhelming primary source ranged against him.” I would say the opposite, that one either believes Symons or the overwhelming primary sources ranged against him. A question of semantics perhaps but the ‘overwhelming primary source’ in the first statement relates simply to Symons’s report…and he cannot necessarily be relied upon.
Regarding Symons’s specific remarks on Ammo Distribution Failure, his statements seem to contradict themselves. He has both officers serving ammo out and carrying it to the front and he has men running backwards and forwards. I put it to you that he spoke to survivors who saw ‘men running back for ammo’ and made the same mistake Steve made above. These men were bandsmen and had the specific duty of fetching ammo when ordered by their NCOs/officers, as Pte Wilson 1/24th tells us. Steve assumed that these were individuals leaving their post to get (individually) ammo and how likely is that?
“Obviously not in sufficient quantities” is your remark not Symons.
“The theory of mule driven carts actually delivering the boxes to the line is contentious” is again your remark. Theory it wasn’t. Essex states it as fact. Regulations required it. Other survivors saw later on in the debacle mules laden with ammo running out about the camp. How is it contentious?
“They may well have been loaded unopened but did they arrive?” Does anyone say that they didn’t arrive? No. Would one expect survivors to relate that they didn’t? Yes. Does Pte. Wilson 1/24th whose job it was to do this very act say that they never arrived? No. Ergo, they arrived.
“Mostyn or Cavaye’s…platoons….are uncomfortably stretched.” These are your words. Stretched? Reasonably compact I would have thought. Uncomfortably stretched? Essex says that they were laughing and chatting and thought they were giving the Zulus an awful hammering.
“The platoon commanders are desperately trying to exert both fire control and fire discipline.”
Again these are your words and do not correspond with eye-witness accounts.
Re your remarks about the calibre of the officers, I agree totally. They would have resupplied in good time (and we know that they organized this). Once the ammunition arrived they would not have to detail men to resuplly the line. This was done by bandsmen transferring ammo from the boxes to haversacks and proceeding along the lines.
Re the kick or rifle butt to the ammo box, as you know, this comes from a near-contemporary source.
Your last point re “the view remains that there was a supply problem” I answered in my previous response to your message. There’s no point in repeating myself.
As you know, Peter, I have a great deal of respect for your opinions and work but I cannot see how the information available lends itself to an historical validation of an argument in favour of ammo supply problems and failure. If anything it tends to present the opposite view. But then, that's why I'm an historian and have always been bitten by the fascination for Isandhlwana bug.
29th May 2004David Alan Gardner
Thanks for the reply. Good response to Peter, you obviously undertook some work there.Appreciated.
29th May 2004steve
does anyone know whether penn symons
interviewd smith dorrien,i know hsd was at
rorkes drift on the 23rd jan,and so were
chelmsford, and, i believe penn symons.
Is it a possibility that one of the
primary sources of penn symons report was
hsd,and not named because the part that
differed , contradicted his superior,essex?

if penn symons report is to be taken lightly,
and if smith dorriens memoirs are to be
given less weight as they are 40 years old,if simeon kambula and davies rides for
resupply didnt matter because durnford was
allready retiring,then the arguement for
the lack of ammunition begins to fail.

but we are dealing with creditable witnesses
people who were there,would penn symons
have anything to gain by smearing essex?
and what would the others have gained by
inferring their was an ammunition failure
if there wasnt ?
best regards to all

29th May 2004steve
does anyone know whether penn symons
interviewd smith dorrien,i know hsd was at
rorkes drift on the 23rd jan,and so were
chelmsford, and, i believe penn symons.
Is it a possibility that one of the
primary sources of penn symons report was
hsd,and not named because the part that
differed , contradicted his superior,essex?

if penn symons report is to be taken lightly,
and if smith dorriens memoirs are to be
given less weight as they are 40 years old,if simeon kambula and davies rides for
resupply didnt matter because durnford was
allready retiring,then the arguement for
the lack of ammunition begins to fail.

but we are dealing with creditable witnesses
people who were there,would penn symons
have anything to gain by smearing essex?
and what would the others have gained by
inferring their was an ammunition failure
if there wasnt ?
best regards to all

30th May 2004Graham Alexander

Are you looking too deeply into this matter of reports for a conspiracy theory ? Your remarks that S.D and Essex's reports contradict each other just does not hold water. Julian confirms that he cannot see how there is a contradiction in the initial reprts, indeed S.D. mentions the ammunition situation only to say that he was serving it out. The report that Essex makes, only elaborates on the methods of distribution.
As to the possibility of Symons "Smearing " Essex, what was there to be gained by this? The fact that he gathered some evidence that may have conflicted with the report of Essex merely means that different people, in different places, saw different things and interpreted them in their own ways. Everyone on this site has their own opinions about what happened, this whole discussion has brought those opinions to the front. Every report can be read in different ways. I was looking at the Zulu accounts of the battle, and while some say that they helped themselves to cartridges from the pouches of dead soldiers, Meshla Kwa Zulu states just the opposite " We searched the pouches of the men;some had a few cartridges, most of them had none at all; there were very few found". It would seem that even the Zulus contradicted themselves, so remember that each man stated what he experienced, it was not neccessarily suported by dozens of witnesses.
30th May 2004Julian whybra
David 29th Thank you.
Steve 29th
Non-one knows who was interveiewed by Symons. No-one is suggesting that Symons report be taken lightly - it is merely a question of interpretation. I see no conflict between between Davies's and Kambula's reports and the others (Davies was the 'other officer' with Henderson by the way). And I don't see a smear by Symons of Essex's report.
Graham 29th
I agree. It does depend where the Zulus were on the battlefield as to what they found. Eventually of course surrounded soldiers will use all their ammo - perhaps that was the case where Mehlokazulu was - before resorting to the bayonet. Others were perhaps overwhelmed before they could fire all their ammo.
30th May 2004David Alan Gardner

I don't think the ammuntion argument fails at all.
From what I have read so far, my beliefs are the same, perhaps reinforced reaffirming the ammo problem.
The troop postions were the primary cause of the failure, ie the unecessary distances involved left problems of supplying ammunitions in the quantites required.

The bottom line is this-it would be impossible- given the positions of the troops that day-to fire too much ammo. Fire concentration, if I may call it that-was to dilute-not enough to cause enough punitive damage to Zulus to make them retire.They were held at bay by the camp force in an apparent stalemate-but in reality, Zulu's were manouevring into a stronger position, almost imperceptibly to the soldiers on the firing line concentrating on targets ahead.

In the meantime.....

Ammuntion supply becomes problematic

This affected the damage that could be inflicted on the Zulu, even allowing for the dead ground.
HS-D's account speaks enough for me. I don't believe he got it wrong. Most reading his account which you were kind enough to highlight earlier, would conclude that his reference to ammuntion was fundamental to the story of disaster at Isandhlwana.

Nor can Penn Symons be dismissed re Essex.


I think the point Steve was making re Symons was exactly that-ie there was nothing to be gained by smearing Essex.
I think you are right when you say everyone can have there own opinions about what happened.They write influenced by personal life experience. Personally, I have very limited military experience, but much experience in firearms. I think of 70 rounds that the soldiers carried, the problems of boxes,the size of the rounds,the distances, how quickly those rounds could be fired-then I think ammo problems there were-there had to be!

70 rounds in those circumstances was nothing. It was interesting when you mentioned Meshla Kwa Zulu's report-which I had not heard of-but again Julian mentions that at the end, individual soldiers/groups would have been in an endgame which saw their entire use of ammo when cut off/surrounded.
To me though, that just again highlights the faulty troop dispositions in the first place.

To maintain the positions they had would have required much more ammo than they received. By the time they realised just how precarious their position was, it was far too late.

My opinions only, but ones I happened to believe in.

30th May 2004steve
the aftermath of the battle has one confirmed
conspiracy.........the report supressed by
the queen untill after chelmsfords death.

however i wasnt suggesting a conspiracy,
only a theory,that as penn symons made a
report by interviewing survivors,directly after
the battle,as hsd was a survivor and at
rorkes drift at the same time,to me it would
seem likely that penn symons spoke to hsd,
and also likely that(as in his memoirs) he
would intimate the ammunition supply question.
The thought arose due to a previous post
whereby i pondered both smith dorrien and
essex obtaining supply from qm bloomfield
if you remember graham,i wondered why
neither mentioned the other,your view was
that victorian military etiquette was or may
have been the reason,i disagreed.

was hsd the officer sent by essex?and with
a possible alternative offered by julian
and views of others,i beleive he was not.

hsd breaking boxes open at the wagon says
to me that he would have been there some
time,(this is confirmed to me by the manner in which in his memoirs he remembers the
ammo boxes design faults) and in breaking
open those boxes,(not one but several,)and
passing out the ammunition,it is mine own
opinion that he should have seen essex,at
the same wagon,at around the same time,
as essex must have taken time to load the
mules and /or carts.
yet neither,as we have allready heard,
mentions the other?
and is this one of the thoughts which crossed
the mind of penn symons if he spoke to hsd.

hence my interest in penn symons and the
report which i understand,differs from essex.

and so the reason that i asked the question in my previous post,was to find out whether
their was confirmation of hsd contributing to
penn symons report,julian kindly pointed me
in the right direction, re no one knows who
was interviewed............but...........that does
not mean to say that hsd did not contribute.

take essexs testimony out of the equation,
just for a moment,and you are left with mules
milling around the camp,
(see reports of ammunition mules being
stampeded by sioux fire at little big horn)
you have hsd breaking boxes and handing out packets,and men coming in from the line
looking for ammunition..........what you have
is an ammuntion resupply breakdown.

are their any witnesses to essexs actions,
vis a vis the mule carts,none that i have seen.

and so my interest as to why hsd and essex did not mention each other ,even though they
were in the same location,at approximately
the same time.
yes to troop disposition,yes to no laager and
no entrenchment,yes to zulu fierce bravery,
yes to the line too thin ,yes to zulu manouvre
but i have not seen convincing evidence
to outweigh the evidence provided by people
such as hsd and others that their was indeed
a failure of the ammunition supply to some

julian 30th-many thanks
david re graham 30th-thanks for clarifying

this has been the most informative debate
on ammunition i have seen,bravo to everyone,
concerned,henceforth i feel sure that one and
all will be known as "master-debators"
definately no pun intended.
best regards to all

30th May 2004Bill Cainan


You wondered why HSD & Essex do not mention each other, with them being in the same location. You may find the answer in Keith's message of the 28th. As each Company had it's own ammunition wagon, the Regiment would have had TWELVE such wagons at Isandlwana (1/24 with five companies, and the 2/24 with seven companies). So the "location" of the ammunition supply, centrally located under Battalion QMs (?), would have covered an area as opposed to a single point.

31st May 2004David Alan Gardner

Do you mean you thought trenches possible?
If so, I may be, to use the colloquail, "havering", here, -but look at the widely known picture of the wagon park later in the year, with mounted troops milling through it, if you magnify the image on computer, the soldiers to the right of the picture do seem to be in some sort of entrenchment-no doubt I'm mistaken.
Agree about the debate, most enjoyable, well done to all!
31st May 2004Julian Whybra
David 30th
You wrote, "the troop postions were the primary cause of the failure, ie the unecessary distances involved left problems of supplying ammunitions in the quantites required." If this were true then the line would have broken through ammo failure. Yet we know this did not happen. The Zulus were kept at a certain distance until the final 'suicidal' charge which the British fline was unable to hold. Even the Zulus say this. Ergo ammo was not responsible.
31st May 2004David Alan Gardner
Yes, but the firing line was retreating in any case at the point of the suicidal charge-in anticipation that it was about to fail in any case?-of course the Zulu left wing was also a factor re it's outflanking move.
Pulleine had a reason for sounding the retire, and no-one can say for certain why.

That the Zulus had not retired and were able to maintain pressure on the line tells of its weakness -not it's strength.
Thousands of rounds were fired, but it was not enough.Thousands more needed to have been fired and they weren't-why do I say this?-because the Zulus were still there.
31st May 2004steve
david 31st
i agree entirely david,well put.
julian 31st
youre probably right as well,see how its all
confused me.......not hard some might say
many thanks keith for your email,my damned
isp removes attachments out of hand,so i
unfortunately didnt get to see the report,but
now in the process of changing isp,maybe
i could impose when i have sorted it out.
is their any record of how many martini henrys
and how much,if any ammunition was recovered,after the battle.
best regards to all
31st May 2004steve
sorry,forgot to reply to yours of the 30th.
i appreciate what you say bill,400,000 rounds
would be too large for just a couple of wagons.
it was all to do with essex seeing bloomfield
shot dead at the ammo wagon,and the hsd
conversation with bloomfield prior to the
death of the qm,i naturally assumed this would be the same wagon,and,importantly
it still may be.
do you know bill,whether bloomfield was
limited to one wagon,or would oversee
best regards

1st June 2004Peter Quantrill
Your years of research and study of the battle are possibly unsurpassed.It is the analasys that each individual conducts that brings the joy of debating issues and perhaps drawing conclusions which are not always in agreement with others.That is the eternal legacy of Isandlwana.
If I may respond to your previous postings of 28th and 29th May.
I stated that " the view remains that there was a supply problem" to which you responded " that view is still unfounded."
1. Inclosure No. 4 PRO 33/34 Pte.Bickley.
" The companies out skirmishing were now apparantly getting short of ammunition." What drew him to that conclusion? He goes on to say that it was being carried out by bandsmen and wagon drivers.He does not mention boxes being opened prior to dispatch, which is so relevant that if it occured surely he would have reported it. Furthermore he does not confirm arrival of ammo and that cannot be accepted as a forgone conclusion.
Pte.Williams reported firing together with Pte. Hough." 40 to 50 rounds each." If that was their rate of fire, what about the companies?
Smith- Dorrien's famous quote, " with thosands of rounds in the wagons 400 yards in the rear there was none in the firing line, all had been used up." Some say that this view written 28 years after the event was inaccurate because of the time lapse and possible memory lapse.Alternatively it could be the truth told as he remembered what he saw, and not what may have been "puffed" at a stage when many were looking to justify and defend the actions of Chelmsford.
Again if there was not a supply problem why did survivors state to Symons that companies were sending back men in twos and threes?No point in doing that if ammo. was arriving safely.
2. I wrote, " either one believes Essex or the overwhelming primary sources ranged against him." Your response was "overwhelming primary source in the first statement relates simply to Symons's report--- and he cannot necessarily relied upon." I argue that he can be relied upon simply becase he is relating exactly what he was told by many many survivors, which in turn constitutes primary source.Thus my statement of "overwhelming primary source" is a fact.
3."Mostyn and Cavaye's platoons uncomforably stretched" : I am now putting on my military hat. They were not only stretched but unduly so..Essex may well have heard men laughing and chatting in the early stages of the action, but that cannot be construed as the platoon positions being "reasonably compact." Without referring to the exellent "Noble 24th." the average company strengths were plus/minus 80. Therefore the approx.platoon strengthswere plu/minus 25.(HQ etc the balance) Therefore 6 companies times 80 equals 480 Imperial soldiers in the line. This does not include men subsequently pushed forward.Now if one examines the ground from Pope'a position on the right to Younghusband's on the extreme left, it is not possible for the men to be deployed in any formation other than thinly spread out with a yard or two between men.The yardage of the entire firing line dictates this. And yes, the job of the platoon commanders is to ensure that effective fire is brought to bear, ordering sight adjustments as the range diminishes,and to ensure that the supply of ammo. anticipates the rate of expenditure, hence platoon commanders possibly reporting their situation to the company commanders who in turn sent men back to obtain ammo packages, not boxes! Also to be borne in mind was the fact that Cavaye and Mostyn in all probability started the Tahalane Ridge action with much less than 70 rounds( the ball bag evidence discussed oreviously) and subsequently much reduced by the time that they retreated. "Apologies, the infantry does not retreat, it makes a tactical withdrawal!)
4.Let us resolve the ammo box controversy.You mention that "re the kick, as you know, this comes from a near contemporary source." I believe that Ron Lock has put this issue to bed.This is one instant where we can realistically reconstruct and put to the test the issue of opening the ammo box with ease and without the screwdriver. Ron has proved that one cannot simply kick or break the ammo box with the butt of a Martini in a single blow,or indeed several blows, This is crucial to the debate and in the absence of evidence to contradict that provided by Ron, one must presume that this particular conclusion is accepted historically and recognised and recorded as such.
5. Finally,the whole issue hinges whether in substance, the report of 39 year old William Pen Symons, Captain 2/24th, who was to rise to the rank of Major General in 1893 is correct. I believe it was.
1st June 2004Peter Quantrill
Point 5. Apologies, should read Penn not Pen.
1st June 2004David Alan Gardner


I believe both future Generals, -Penn Symons, AND Smith- Dorrien.
I think you are spot on with everything you say- I'm sure Steve does too.
Most enjoyable and thought provoking.
You are magnanamous to Julian, and all due respect to him which he undoubtedly deserves without hopefully being too patronising.

To me, what you have written makes sense and fits in with what occured on the day, and I gladly go along with it.
1st June 2004Julian whybra
David 31st
The reason for the withdrawal of the line IS known and has been referred to above. Durnford was heard to say that he thought the line too extended and desired to concentrate the troops. Hence the retire. The retire has no known connection to any supposed decrease in fire rate.
The Zulus were in fact according to their own testimony on the point of breaking and giving up such had been the rate of fire and casualties inflicted. Had it not been for umKosana and the final charge they may well have behaved as at Khambula and Ulundi.
Steve 31st
As far as I am aware no firearms /ammo were recovered after the battle. After the war some firearms were recovered.
Peter 1st
Thanks for the compliment but that should go to David Jackson in truth who constantly surprises me with information he holds. Now, to business….
1. Bickley was not at the front line (as Wilson and Essex were). The only thing that could have drawn him to the conclusion that "the companies out skirmishing were now apparently getting short of ammunition." were his eyes, i.e. he saw men the men allocated for the purpose returning for ammunition. He had been with them that morning when they were assigned their duties as ammo carriers, etc., but he was assigned a different task, to be on sentry duty guarding the officers’ tents. “Apparently” is the clue here – what other purpose could bandsmen be returning from the lines for?
He states that he saw it being carried out by bandsmen and waggon drivers. Fine. There’s no problem with that. As I’ve said before, there was no need to state the obvious – in coy carts – the court of inquiry would know that. Neither would there have been any point in mentioning detail – whether the boxes were open or not, whether they had ‘Made in Birmingham’ stamped on them with a sell-by date, etc., or indeed whether they arrived! Though I WOULD suggest that he would have mentioned it if they hadn’t arrived! That would have been worthy of note.
Williams and Hough were not in the lines, again having their own specific duties as groom and cook. They were therefore not subject to the disciplined rifle fire administered by the officers/NCOs but simply fired away as and when they felt like it. The two rates of fire cannot be compared.
Smith-Dorrien’s remark, "with thousands of rounds in the wagons 400 yards in the rear there was none in the firing line, all had been used up" simply has no credible foundation when he was not in the firing line – he was in no position to know what was going on in the firing line, he wasn’t there. He may have been writing figuratively or with impetuosity or simply out of turn. So that, when you write, “alternatively it could be the truth told as he remembered what he saw”, this cannot apply since he SAW nothing.
You wrote, “again if there was not a supply problem why did survivors state to Symons that companies were sending back men in twos and threes?”. As I said above, survivors saw the men coming back whose duty it was to resupply i.e. bandsmen. That they were coming back does not mean that ammo supplies were dangerously low. It simply means that everyone from the officer overseeing ammo expenditure to the humble bandsman was doing his assigned job.
2. Symons does not state which survivors he spoke to. He may have only spoken to colonials, natives, men not in the firing line. How many men did he speak to of the 80+ survivors? One? Two? Five? Eighty? It is technically possible he spoke to no-one (though I doubt this). It is the interpretation he puts on their answers which cannot be relied upon because it is his opinion. If he can get other areas of his report so badly wrong why should one be willing to credit him with knowledge privy to no-one else?
3. You were explicitly referring to the coys on the spur in your remark, "Mostyn and Cavaye's platoons were uncomforably stretched", and so was I in my response. Undoubtedly the other coys were uncomfortably stretched but not so C, F and E coys. I don’t deny there may have been a considerable gap between these coys but all the surviving testimony indicates that they these 3 coys were in good order.
You say that the laughing and chatting, etc only applies to the early stages of the battle. I disagree. We can even quote the redoubtable Symons himself, “The universal testimony is that UP TO THE LAST MOMENT (my capitals) no-one believed FOR AN INSTANT that there was the slightest danger of the camp being taken; there was NO SIGN OF HESITATION, or FEAR FOR THE RESULT, NO THOUGHT OF WAVERING, everyone kept steadily to his work of firing and fighting.” Does that sound like men running out of ammo? Does that sound inconsistent with Essex’s remarks? Or do we ignore that part and only believe the remarks referring to ammo failure? Perhaps he spoke to a survivor from the firing line? If he did, and he can have spoken to no others to get that view, then he would be hearing it from the horse’s mouth, not from a Smith-Dorrien back in the camp.
4. I admit that ammo boxes were hard to open if you do not know how but I cannot exclude contemporary testimony.
5. You wrote that, “Finally,the whole issue hinges whether in substance, the report of 39 year old William Pen Symons, Captain 2/24th, who was to rise to the rank of Major General in 1893 is correct.” It does not. It hinges upon whether one believes solely certain of the interpretations of evidence received by Symons OR whether one believes the accumulated evidence of the actual survivors from Isandhlwana, both officers and men. As you know, his becoming a Major-General in 1893 has nothing to do with a report dated 1880. If we are to put sole faith in Symons’s report we’ll have to revise our opinions about the deaths of Melvill and Coghill, the finding of the colour, etc., etc., or do we ignore the bits that we don’t like?
David 1st
All your idols will have feet of clay. And, if I may, that’s the wonder of Isandhlwana, what Peter has written makes sense, I agree, but does NOT fit in with what occurred on the day.
1st June 2004Graham Alexander

With regards to point 2 of your reply to Julian, you say that Penn Symons was reporting the evidence told to him by many, many survivors.
As we have narrowed those differences down to the resupply of ammunition, the options are as follows. 1) Essex is an out and out liar- I don't think that anyone on this site or at the time would suggest that. 2) Essex is correct and all the other reports are not - again unlikely. 3) The difference hinges between what actually happened and what was witnessed. How many of the survivors were present in camp when the ammunition was being sent out ? If ammunition was sent out but never arrived where needed, how many front line survivors would have been aware that attempts were even being made to resupply ? The survivors could report that they were low on ammunition, or that they never received a fresh supply, both possibly true, but how many could say truthfully that Essex was NOT doing his best to arrange a supply of ammunition.
As the exact number of reports Symonds gathered are unknown, it seems that only people directly involved in the supply situation should be relied upon. This would surely narrow those numerous reports down to a very few, and I would still support Essex to have given an acurate assessment of the situation
1st June 2004Julian whybra
P.S. Oh and I forgot, sections, not platoons.
Peter, I do hope we're not writing someone's A level assignment here, or somebody else's article for Military illustrated (or worse), or yet somebody else's PhD (as I haven't got mine yet!)
1st June 2004Marc Jung
Thanks for this (unexpectedly extensive, but grateful) reply to my query everyone. I'll try my level best to analyse these responses (when I have time!) Very interesting as always. Keep up the good work!
1st June 2004steve
is is the chicken or the egg conundrum?
was it troop disposition or ammunition resupply that forced durnfords retire from the donga?
it could be both,mehlokazulu says that "they
(the zulu left horn)could not advance against
the fire from the men in the donga".so the left horn is forced even further left,this outflanks durnford.
yet simeon kambule says,our cartridges were nearly done,then our cartridges were quite done,THEN our officer ordered retire.
Davies says my men called out
saying they were low on ammunition.
Durnford is there,walking up and down the line,he cannot help but be aware that the ammunition is nearly gone,so henderson, davies etc are ordered to get more.

perhaps the reality is that the epic stand on the british right,became a victim of its own success,the zulu left cannot stand and live in the withering fire from the donga,the men in the donga expend nearly all ammunition in its defence,the zulu left extends further left to get away from the fire,durnford then has no choice but to withdraw,
a/because he has no more ammunition
b/because he is being outflanked

if essex is correct even mostyn and cavaye are low on ammunition when they retire to the bottom of the hill,isnt this enough to suggest that the ammunition issued to those two companies,was not sufficient for the job in hand.........(ammo problem 1) to be resupplied ,essex goes to the nearest wagon,as mostyn and cavaye s own wagon is twice the distance away (ammo problem 2)
i fully understand that essex says he obtained more,and this temporarily remedies the ammunition resupply deficiencies for mostyn and cavaye.

a smith dorrien ,who may not have been on the line,still has eyes to see the zulu masses,and eyes to see others coming for ammunition..........if he didnt,and didnt know the rate of expenditure on the line,then he was an even greater soldier than i thought, anticipating the companys needs,rounding up camp casuals etc,all on the off chance that they may need it.........and.......carrying it out so urgently by literally breaking boxes open,
and thrusting packets into others hands.......
"ere,whats this for "they must have said to him.
hsd was where a transport officer should have been,in the camp
so what was essex doing with mostyn and cavaye,away from the camp? and given the nature of the disaster,and the heads will roll feeling,post battle,wouldnt it have been easier to say,i was supervising ammunition .

parts of the line may well have had enough ammunition,and so they stuck to the task in hand,assured that the zulu were taking a beating,but parts of the line may not have been so lucky,they may have seen their officers send for more,and ,so it has been suggested, husbanded their rounds untill fresh supplies arrived,or didnt........

in any event i dont think anyone would expect the line to expend ammunition uniformly, some may have tripped over the boulders losing rounds,some may have been missing their valise,some rifles may have had a tendency through dirt or manufacture to stick more than others,but more importantly the zulu didnt stand in a uniform line opposite the companys throughout the fight,and thus the expenditure would not be uniform,the zulu would certainly have noted where the fire was lightest,and concentrated on that point.

on a lighter note, that the sound my theories make when they bounce off the biscuit boxes of your superior knowledge.

2nd June 2004David Alan Gardner

I don't want to get in the way of Peter's reply to you, but there is some queries I have to your response to him, and of course your reply to me.

You begin by saying that the retire by saying, and I quote "the retire has no known connection to any supposed decrese in fire rate".
Well yes I it had. Uhmoti is quoted as saying " at the sound of a bugle the firing ceased at a breath, and the whole British force retired on the tents"
To me, this is a collapse in fire.

Further, "Made in Birmingham", "sell by dates" are irrelevant. Whether the boxes were opened- is-because we speak here of time and effort- time was precious in the circumstances.

When you wrote that Smith-Dorrien
saw nothing-you suggest he may have spoken to some survivors-but what about speaking to those coming for the ammo? -info was being sent by officers on the firing line via the runners . Other than eyes, he had ears and formed a judgement based on what his experience was in the camp, what he saw, but also what was said ie he did not physically have to be in the firing line to make this judgement.
Put another way, he was not operating in a vacumn. Or shall I say, "no man is an island?"
He would have had some idea of what was going on.
Likewise Penn Symons made a report and formed an opinion.That the opinion does not suit a particular version of events does not negate the report.
Yes he may be at fault, just as others may have, but he can't be dismissed in the manner you seem to infer.

I don't mind my idols having feet of clay, as long as I don't!
2nd June 2004Peter Quantrill
Mon ami, I now see that you are using the "redoubtable" Symons to reinforce your argument!
I feel that like the overstretched line, this debate is reaching stalemate.Perhaps we should put on a stage play,without script, and re- inact the Court of Inquiry with a legal beaver as President and complete with full jury. Might even make a few bob! May I please play Durnford and if there are no volunteers, also Penn Symons.
On a serious note. May I pin you down to two specific points with a friendly "yes" or "no" answer.
First: Do you accept Ron Lock's forensic work on the ammo box as described in my previous posting?This to my mind is critical and central to the debate and here I am not looking for previous "near contemporary" reports. Is Ron's forensic work acceptable to you? If the answer is "no" then would you participate in conducting a second forensic test?
Second: Do you accept that rounds were lost from ball bags when men doubled into battle positions as evidence by Woodgate and Newdigate?
2nd June 2004Juian Whybra
And still they come….
Steve 1st
With respect I don’t think you can infer both from the day’s actions. The left horn was never ‘forced’ further left. It would have always been part of the left horn’s ‘game plan’ to encircle leftwards till the enemy was surrounded.
Your juxtaposition of events – Simeon Kambula first then Davies then Henderson/Davies is not quite in accordance with the known facts – so the sequence of events may not read as you suggest.
You write, “Durnford then has no choice but to withdraw, a/because he has no more ammunition b/because he is being outflanked” but this in defiance of his known remarks viz.that he thought the line too extended and wished to concentrate the trrops.
You wrote, “what was essex doing with mostyn and cavaye,away from the camp?” – according to his own testimony he rode out to see his friend Cavaye. It was not Essex’s job to resupply with ammo. It would have been QM Pullen and the bandsmen’s. But he was on horseback and swifter and Cavaye asked him to go back and send out more ammo, which he did, and may explain why he went to the nearer 2nd bn ammo waggon and QM Bloomfield.
You wrote, “the zulu didn’t stand in a uniform line opposite the companies throughout the fight,and thus the expenditure would not be uniform,the zulu would certainly have noted where the fire was lightest,and concentrated on that point.” Correct, they certainly didn’t stand; the evidence is that they laid down under their shields, that the British fire was not continuous, that there were cease fires called. I agree on the latter point – the evidence suggests that the Zulus charged home at the weakest point of the line where the fire was least effective, where the RA were and fewer riflemen were posted.
PhD….there goes another one. But superior, no, never. Knowledge is acquired, that’s all.
David 2nd
Umhoti’s account provides evidence that the British line withdrew in an orderly fashion as a result of the bugle call (and of course they would cease fire whilst doing so: it was not a fighting retreat with independent firing). This cannot be equated with a failure of ammunition supply. Once repositioned the line of troops would have continued where they left off: there is no collapse of fire indicated. Hence no decrease in fire rate, as quoted.
To explain my flippant remark (forgive me) about Made in Birmingham, etc. is that the survivors’ accounts tend not to deal with stating the obvious i.e. information which would already have been known or didn’t need stating in writing to the Court of Inquiry, viz. whether the boxes were open, screwed down, unscrewed with foil intact, unscrewed with foil removed, came with screwdriver attached, etc., etc.
Time being precious in the circumstances is only relevant if you believe that time was precious in terms of ammo supply.
Smith-Dorrien does not satate that he spoke to those coming in for ammo (who would have reported to the QMs). He says that while he was in the camp he gathered together some camp casuals and began doling out ammo and taking it out himself to the front line (by his own 1879 statement he arrived there and did hand it out).
You wrote, “likewise Penn Symons made a report and formed an opinion.That the opinion does not suit a particular version of events does not negate the report.” The opinion does not “not suit a particular version of events”; it does not match the factual accounts of the survivors – a different thing entirely. No, I agree, he can’t be dismissed, but the validity of the totality of his report is in question.
My mother used to use the quotation about feet and clay and idols – it seemed appropriate at the time. By the way magnanimity is usually offered in victory or defeat. I’m not sure which you imply in your response to Peter!
Peter 2nd
Peter, exactly the point I hoped would be noticed. Symons can be used to reinforce a variety of views depending on what it is you want reinforced and occasionally both sides of the same argument!
I agree about the length of this discussion. If you play Durnford, I’ll be Symons, at least he lived to fight another day (and become a Major-General).
I’m afraid the answer is no, I don’t accept it, because I’ve seen contemporary boxes where the wood between the screwhole and the box edge has been split (and thus the central panel released and access gained to the interior) through some sort of violent well-aimed and no doubt well-practised blow either from a butt or a hammer or (to quote the near-contemporary) the heel of an army boot.
I accept that some rounds would have been lost as you suggest but, and this IS a personal opinion, I cannot believe that old soldiers would not have been ignorant of the fact and would not have devised their own remedy for this.
On a different note, I am getting seriously concerned about the amount of time I’m devoting to discussing this matter – it is distracting me both from work and from research – I may have to add my own name to the Isandhlwana casualty roll! I’m wondering whether or not to devote some time later on to a separate article and look at the evidence for and against in detail – or do you think it will be old hat by then?
2nd June 2004David Alan Gardner

This is a quickie as I'm busy today ,-yes its time consuming but worth it!

When the firing stopped, if only briefly, then most importantly the momentum was probably lost to the British.The sheer kinetic energy of the Zulus then became unstoppable.So for you to say the retire had "no known connection to any decrease in fire rate".-is in fact incorrect.
Further, I had not implied when quoting Uhmoti that a failure in fire rate at that point was due to ammo failure.I used it to highlight what happened to the fire rate.

Forgive me, but time was much more serious than in relation to ammo supply.The Zulus were consoldating their position by the minute, in doing so consoldating their position which would lead to victory-as oppsed to the relative stagnancy of the British position.

Interesting to hear what you said about the ammo boxes.
2nd June 2004steve
julian please do not add your name to the isandlwhana casualty roll,i havnt seen you run out of ammunition in the whole debate.

seriously,when marc originally asked his question i doubt whether anyone would have thought that a marathon such as this would arise.
are any of us closer to answering the question,it appears that the debate has become polarised .
rons idea on the ammo box,great,and i would love to see the result,if only to rid myself of ian knights similar televised event(sorry ian)
which i didnt think was at all convincing.

yes durnford did say his line was too extended,this was after the withdrawl,too extended for what?(rhetorical)
the purpose of his line was to check the zulu left horn,he did so convincingly upto a point,
that point being,the zulu horn extending even further to the british right,and the failure of his own runners to come back with any convincing amount of ammunition,to further check the zulu advance.
the line starts to disintigrate from the british right,first durnfords withdrawl, pope switching fire from front to front right,then taking a new position nearer to the camp,the company on popes left is affected etc etc.......the domino effect.........who then is left supporting the guns.........and so trace it back,could durnford have kept his position,with unlimitless ammunition?
the enigma continues.

best regards to all

4th June 2004Michael Boyle
As this debate seems to winding down, I thought I might venture into the Deep End of the Pool to ask some questions.(By the way it's amazing how 125 yrs. of speculation can be so completly represented in a single thread. This topic should be required reading for any one with more than a passing interest in the AZW.No one can accuse you chaps of joining a firing line with an empty ball bag.)

Part of Lord Chelmford's regulations remind "Too much care cannot be taken in restraining thier men when in action from too lavish an expenditure of ammunition. Seventy rounds are carried by each soldier but these are quickly expended, if he is carried away by excitement, and does not fire with coolness and precision. There is obvious danger should men run short of ammunition when at any distance from the reserves. Whenever, therefore, there appears any likelihood of troops becoming hotly engaged, thirty rounds extra had better be carried by the soldier. [In addition to the 70?] A N. C. Officer should always be previously detailed by each company, whose duty it would be should an engagement become imminent to have the reserve ammunition in readiness for issue from the wagons." [Any indication this was done?] He goes on to say "...a commanding officer would incur a heavy responsibility should required supplies fail to arrive in time, through any want of foresight and arrangement on his part." [Why would he over-state the obvious unless it was a concern?] I have no way of knowing, first;if this an accurate quote, or if it is;if it is part of his initial instructions or perhaps an addendum for the second invasion? Either way he seems to have considered it important.

As to which mark ammo boxes were there, has any one been able to check supply ship's manifests or surviving Quartermaster's lists from other companies/battalions? It seems most prior British engagements in South Africa didn't seem to last long enough to expend the ammunition carried by the individual so there could have been quite a few of the old Mark boxes left.
4th June 2004Julian whybra
Julian Whybra
David 2nd
I repeat, and please read and understand the words precisely, that the retire had no known connection to any decrease in fire rate. That is to say, the retire was NOT due to a relaxation in the fire rate caused by a shortage of ammunition (which was the circumstance in which my response was given). That the men ceased firing while they moved is obvious; that there was a consequent decrease in the fire rate as a result of the move is out of the question.
Neither does the retire have any connection with the decision of the Zulus to charge home which was accomplished against a hail of fire from the re-formed British line.
Steve 2nd
I’m afraid I don’t agree that the debate has become polarized. I’m still waiting for the pro-ammo failure section to come up with a primary source as supporting evidence as I asked what seems weeks ago at the beginning of this discussion (remembering of course that Symons report does NOT constitute a primary source in historical terms). Every point that has been put forward on the pro side I and others have countered without comeback. As far as I’m concerned it has still to be proved. On the anti side several witnesses’ evidences have been submitted without being countered.
Re Durnford – too extended to hold the camp area successfully, i suggest.
Steve, I look forward to hearing your comments after you’ve read a good secondary work like Jackson, after you’ve refined your thoughts and theories, and after you’ve checked these against the primary sources. I think you’ll have much to contribute in future. On re-reading that, it sounds patronising;I didn't intend it to be, I honestly meant it.
Michael 4th
Deep end? No! come on in, the water’s lovely! Thanks for reminding everyone that the men may well have been carrying 100 rounds each. It was said near the beginning of this discussion but was quietly overlooked later.
4th June 2004Keith Smith
Michael (4th)

Your quotation is almost correct, and is taken from Regulkations for Field Forces in South Africa, 1878, from I which quoted another extract earlier in this thread.

I say almost because there are two separate clauses, which is not obvious from your quotation, but which were clearly meant to be treated separately. The full quotation is:

"37. Too much care cannot be taken in impressing upon all officers and N. C. officers the importance of restraining their men when in action from too lavish an expenditure of ammunition. Seventy rounds are carried by each soldier, but these are quickly expended, if he is carried away by excitement, and does not fire with coolness and precision. There is obvious danger should men run short of ammunition when at any distance from the reserves. Whenever, therefore, there appears any likelihood of troops becoming hotly engaged, thirty rounds extra had better be carried by the soldier.
38. The means of transport for further reserves must always be at hand at each outpost, and a commanding officer would incur a heavy responsibility should required supplies fail to arrive in time, through any want of foresight and arrangement on his part."

Item 37 has the notation "Ammunition" while 38 has the notation "Transporrt of Ammunition"; the two clauses should not therefore be read as continuous, which puts a rather misleading interpretation on it.

I hope I am not being too pedantic here :).


4th June 2004Ron Lock
Whether or not the ammunition boxes could be opened by a single blow with a rock or by a hefty kick, is fundamental to whether or not there was a problem with the ammunition supply at Isandlwana.

On the 23 May I outlined in detail, reasons for believing - indeed, perhaps proving, thata without a screw driver the boxes were difficult to open. You have notrespondedl. I have been waiting for a salvo of primary source evidence to the contrary, but it looke as if you, too, have run short of ammo!! I can appreciate the time that this topic has consumed but lets try to reach a conclusion. You are quite correct when you refer to comtemporary boxes having been broken open with wood split away from the control panel - but not, I fear, with a single blow etc. Please respond to by submission of the 23rd May.

4th June 2004David Alan Gardner

As I mentioned, when I referred to the retreat, I was merely saying that fire did in fact drop off at the retire-which of course it did

You wrongly assumed that this was in connection with ammo. My point was to correct you when you said that, again quote , "the retire has no known connection to any supposed decrease in fire rate". You do not at any point in your previous post of 01/06/04 clarify this.You do not mention ammo in relation to fire rate, you quote fire rate on it's own.This debate has become so precise that care must be taken to clarify what is actually meant-something which I have not always done myself!
As my point has been that there was a possible failure of rate of fire , it is not surprising that I mention it again.
The fire rate faltered when they retreated,- quite clearly-when you say there was no question of a decrease in fire rate, this must surely be wrong-the way the infantry would have retired would have been for half the men to stay put, the other half to retire-cutting the fire rate by half-correct?

I say this in the knowledge the outcome of the battle had already been decided.

Or is my arithmetic at fault?
4th June 2004steve
a primary source,indeed an active witness was offered,horace smith dorrien.
i refer you to my post of 28th may.

he is a primary source and it is not enough for people to suggest his memoirs were written years later and by inference incorrect, through failing memory.

one of the points you raised on 29th may, in response basically was that he hadnt been on the firing line so how could he possibly know they needed ammo,in response several contributors pointed out he had eyes and ears and being at the ammo wagon doling out packets,he would have heard the talk and the sound of prolonged fire,or lack thereof ,again by inference you dismiss hsd as a primary source.

you cannot make a judgement on hsd memory without evidence to suggest it was failing,ive seen none,you have provided none, yet three times he mentions failure to provide ammunition,and once he mentions the ammuntion boxes as a problem.
saying its been dealt with before,doesnt help the debate,or any new viewers who find it interesting,and pertinent.
penn symons,interviewing survivors,and as i understand it pointing out the failure of ammunition as a factor,do we ignore it.
yes i know hes not a primary source,but then niether are you,he obtained his information from those who were there.......verbally,you obtain your information in much the same way,from those who were there but by the written word........both secondary sources, should your view carry any greater weight than penn symons,considering the similarities in knowledge retrieval?

essex mentions low ammunition,allthough he obtained more the inference is that they had nearly expended their ammunition by the time of the retire down the hill.

simeon kambula,refused ammunition,doesnt matter if hes at the wrong wagon,cant ask the zulu to stay where they are while he finds the right wagon,hence shortage from a primary source.

davies finds half a box from the carbineers
approx 200 or 300 rounds,hence shortage again,doesnt matter if durnfords allready retiring by the time he gets back,too little too late.indeed if their were no urgency for ammunition for durnford why bother to take back only half a box,purloined from the carbineers?,as it would probably give each man only three or four rounds .

the redesign of the ammunition boxes,the way in which ammunition is unscrewed and placed closer to the firing line in subsequent battles points to recognition of previous failings.

your post 19th may stating that "43 survivors left 115 accounts,some left several , they do not mention ammo failure".
again,smith dorrien,he actually says the ammunition failed,not once but three times.

your post of 17thmay, ref ammunition boxes,
"their was no delay in opening boxes.none is mentioned by anyone anywhere at isandlwhana"
horace smith dorrien disagrees with you,he is quite clear in stating the problems he,(a witness,a primary source )had with them.
refer to my post 28th may,quoting smith dorrien,item 3.

peter on 1st june quotes private bickley, you respond saying he wasnt on the line but on sentry duty,and that his eyes must have led him to this conclusion,together with seeing bandsmen etc.
once again primary source,mentioning ammunition shortage,by being aware of that which goes on around him.
molife and his cartridges running low,then out of cartridges alltogether,at that point they are ordered to retire to camp by durnford.
note the sequence,retire to camp after they have no ammunition left.......another primary source,another ammunition shortage.

yes julian,it does sound patronising,and while typing it ,and realising,you could have changed it to less so........but its only what i would expect,i mean i am in good company,penn symons,horace smith dorrien and me.
regards to all

5th June 2004David Alan Gardner
Oh dear Julian, Steve is not so easily "bought" it would appear!
His questions, -and they have been well put, particularly with respect to Durnford , have been thought provoking.
In your answer to Peter back there, you said you would have prefererred to have been Penn Symons to Durnford.
Perhaps thas another of differences between you and I.As far as I and many others I suspect feel, Durnford ran into glorious immortality that day, dying while no doubt egging the Zulu's to come and get him ;fighting to save others escaping ensuring his own certain, bloody death to preserve others.
Hero?-you'd better believe it, and should have had VC-althoughwe all know why couldn't have one.
6th June 2004Melvin Hunt
First, a personal thank you for the time you have put into this debate. From your 2nd June comments you are obviously very busy with your work and research.
In your 4th June comment you state that the retire had nothing to do with the Zulu decision to charge home and that the charge was accomplished against the fire from a reformed line.
I was wondering where and what was the reformed firing line?
Certainly at the RA guns position the Zulu had already got very close and were able to contact the gunners as they started to retire. From that point there was no longer any organised firing line apart from last stands.
7th June 2004Melvin Hunt
I have reread your comments and I wonder why you feel the need to "personalise" your arguments against Julian in order to make your points.
This has been a great debate but your latest comments re Durnford are irrelevant.
Did Durnford really "run into glorious immortality" (which Hollywood film did that come from?) or did he, in fact, make a massive contribution to the final British defeat.
Hero? There is also evidence that he actually panicked and shot himself.
7th June 2004David Alan Gardner

I didn't really feel a need to personalise it against Julian, if he's offended I'll readily apologise to him-I appreciate Julian's knowledge and freely acknowledge his breadth ofsubject knowledge.However, I'm sure Julian can stand up for himself.

Massive contribution to the British defeat?-I considered this charge-but Durnford was acting with the best of intentions on the day, so I won't criticise what he did. It's clear he was a leader of men, and he helped others get away when he could easily have fled with the rest of his men-some of whom urged him to go, and even considered later that they should just have carried him off with them-such was the respect he earned.
"Panicked?"-I think not,and that smacks of the flavour of the propganda against him after the battle.
Shot himself?-perhaps he did, so what?-he was going to die anyway and had done as much as could have been expected.To take his own life in the circumstances should not merit criticism-what would you have done?

I've been carried away by this debate, but you yourself have personalised things when you ask which "Hollywood film" does "glorious immortality" come from?

I think you'll find the term a reference to Redemption in the bible.
7th June 2004Keith Smith
David and Melvin

I think the matter of Durnford's contribution has little relevance for this particular thread although the topic is itself of great interest.

I'm not sure, Melvin, where the evidence for Durnford's suicide is to be found, but consider the following two items:

1. One of Durnford’s own men, Sgt. Clarke of the Natal Carbineers, said after the Lanagilibalele fracas in 1873 that he would never serve under him again unless compelled by law. (Drooglever, The Road to Isandlwana, p. 57.)

2. A quotation from a letter written after Isandlwana by Lt. A. Henderson, commanding the Hlubi troop: "If I had known what sort of a man Durnford was (when he got into action) I don’t think I would have gone with him. He was close to me during most of the fight and he lost his head altogether, in fact he did not know what to do."

One might wonder whether or not Durnford was able to 'keep his cool' under the stress of action.


8th June 2004Melvin Hunt
Thanks for the reply and clarification. I guess we all get carried away at times on our favourite subject.
Didn't mean to get personal. I thought the quote came from maybe Errol Flynn playing Custer. ("Death or glory boys!")
I think the Durnford question deserves a new thread. And I'd have probably shot myself as soon as the Zulu appeared on the Ngutu Ridge.
9th June 2004Julian Whybra
Apologies for delays, a backlog of work intervened for a while I’m afraid.
Keith 4th June
A very good point and certainly not pedantic.
Ron 4th
I note that you have introduced the word ‘single’ into your statement regarding blows to ammunition boxes. I have checked my previous comments and at no time did I stipulate a single blow. One may have sufficed but I doubt it. Personally I think whether one or half a dozen blows makes no difference; it is irrelevant to the question of ammo supply. The surviving boxes, which I note you too have seen, all show that they were opened in this way (i.e. by blows to the end of the sliding panel). No-one at Inyezane and Rorke’s Drift also on the 22nd complained of opening problems such as you suggest. No doubt several boxes were opened (conventionally) ready at each waggon. As they were used, more were prepared for use. Not pulling the foil back and replacing the sliding panel kept the contents intact. Since there are no references to a failing ammo supply at the line or to a slackening of fire rates at Isandhlwana, the whole question to me seems immaterial. So, I’m afraid I disagree fundamentally with your opening statement.
You also wrote “On the 23 May I outlined in detail, reasons for believing - indeed, perhaps proving, that without a screw driver the boxes were difficult to open. You have notrespondedl. I have been waiting for a salvo of primary source evidence to the contrary…”
Apologies, I thought this was well covered by subsequent postings which, I admit, were not in direct reply to you, but went over the same ground. Yes, I quite agree that the boxes weren’t easy to open without a screwdriver but neither can it have been as difficult as you make out otherwise the surviving examples would not show evidence of the preferred method of opening as opposed to a screwdriver.
Your 23rd May entry opened with a false premise as far as I’m concerned viz.
“If there was an ammo. shortage, as I believe there was, the primary reason would most likely have been the inability to open some - not all - of the ammo boxes.” There is no evidence of an ammo shortage therefore arguments re opening times of ammo boxes become irrelevant. So, as for a salvo of primary sources being presented to disprove this, it all really becomes rather unnecessary. You can’t expect someone to come up with reasons proving that something for which there is no evidence didn’t happen! That’d be like my saying to you I know there’s no evidence for it, but I believe Martians came and kidnapped the last survivors of the 24th; prove me wrong!
Lastly, I’m not sure when you wrote the 4th June posting but as I’m sure you realize it’d be impossibl;e for me to have replied by 23rd May!
David 4th
I’m sorry for misunderstanding your posting. I had mistakenly assumed that since we were discussing the possibilities of a failure of ammo supply to the line causing a decrease in the fire rate that the comments you made were referring to this. I had not realized that you were making a separate point; it was not obvious.
You are quite right about being careful with words and their meanings.
Your suggestion that half the men would have stayed put and covered for the half retreating during the withdrawal, and then vice versa is entirely logical. However, the evidence is that this did not happen (from Umhoti and others) and that they retired en masse.
I do not believe that the British thought that the outcome of the battle had at this stage already been decided. Survivors’ evidence does not support this view.
Steve 4th
I answered your POINTS on the 29th May briefly. You obviously require a bit more detail. The various S-D accounts when pieced together indicate that S-D left Rorke’s Drift late on the 21st for Isandhlwana. I’m sorry but I don’t have the time to quote the passages verbatim from S-D’s various accounts (I suggest you look these up for yourself. You’ve often used S-D to back up your own notions yet I note that you’ve not actually read his accounts for yourself – it would be sensible to do so). So, you get a quick summary from me:
S-D rode out from Rorke's Drift late on the 21st for Isandhlwana. That night he slept in the camp but at 3 am on the 22nd was required to ride back to RD with a message. He returned to Isandhlwana and arrived an hour after Durnford (11.30 am-ish). Soon after this the incident with Bloomfield takes place and S-D is out with the front coys handing out ammunition. After this he is not clear about his movements – other than he was in the camp area. He simply refers to the Zulus coming right into camp and his escaping on horseback. POINT 2 of your posting mentions S-D referring in his memoirs to “thousands of rounds in the waggons 400 yds in rear of the men” and therefore unobtainable to them when they were swamped by the Zulu charge. This is of course a nonsense. None of the men (except Wolfe and 20 of H coy) died on the firing line. They were found in groups of coy strength on the slope of Isandhlwana, on the west of the saddle, and elsewhere, having moved through the upper camp (and presumably past the ammo waggons). In other words the ammo was not unreachable. When he wrote that “the ammunition was all used up” this is directly contradicted by the evidence of the Zulus themselves (see the accounts of the uMbonambi warrior, the uNokhenkhe deserter, Uguku, Mehlokazulu in particular, et al.). He is evidently stating what he believed happened and perhaps describing the last position he knew of the 24th before he left the camp. I put it to you that when he left the camp he was not aware that the 24th were retiring otherwise he would not have made such a self-evidently incorrect statement.
POINT 1 of your posting again refers to S-D writing that “no steps were taken until too late to issue extra ammunition”. This is, as pointed out above, in direct contradiction to the men ordered to carry out such issue and to those men who witnessed it in action (see above). Of course, S-D would not have been aware of such arrangements since he arrived in camp after the commencement of the action. As regards his comment on waggon laagering this has been answered above and shows the extent to which he was, at the time of writing his memoirs, unaware of the impossibility of laagering on the 22nd as given in the various official reports.
The same could be said as to his comments on entrenchment in POINT 4.
As for POINT 3 there are differences between his memoirs and his 1879 comments. The major one is that he makes no complaint against ammo boxes in the accounts of 1879. He is “breaking them open as fast as we could” and describes no difficulty in opening them with or without a screwdriver.
Ian Knight makes a very good point on p. 82 of ‘Zulu’ how the Bloomfield passage can be read two ways and might indicate “coolness and discipline” as opposed to “bungling and inflexibility”. Read it.
So now for the 29th’s comments. S-D seems to suggest in his memoirs that the Bloomfield incident took place late in the battle. Yet we know that Bloomfield was shot quite early in the fight (from Essex writing 4 days later) so S-D’s memory is at fault – the incident took place early on in the fight and that changes its complexion and says something about the reliability of specifics in the later, primary I admit, but not contemporary, S-D account, and therein lies the difficulty. No-one is suggesting that his memoirs are incorrect because he wrote them years later but I am suggesting that parts can be questioned. It would be naïve to assume that the effects of ageing didn’t play some part in altering the narrative of events – memory failing, embellishment, confusion of timings and persons, constant re-telling causing a Chinese whispers effect, the intervention of a mass of detail from WWI entering his consciousness, etc.. As an example, my own grandfather in the 1960s could not remember the names of the battles he fought in on the Western Front in WWI yet you’d think he’d have remembered them inside out. Whilst he could remember in detail the incident in which he was wounded he had no idea of the nature of the action that was going on around him and he certainly couldn’t remember what was said to him or overheard by him or even an impression of them during the event.
No, I can’t make personal comment about
S-D’s memory state toward the end of his life and yet I’VE read all his accounts and memoirs. In that case you certainly can’t comment either since by your own admission you’ve NOT read them.
I do not dismiss S-D as a primary source – indeed I could refer to his 1879 accounts as primary sources to be used against his later one.
You wrote “he would have heard the talk and the sound of prolonged fire,or lack thereof”.
S-D at no time mentions a lack of prolonged fire.
You wrote “you cannot make a judgement on hsd memory without evidence to suggest it was failing,ive seen none,you have provided none, yet three times he mentions failure to provide ammunition, and once he mentions the ammuntion boxes as a problem.”
Memory failing (timing of the Bloomfield incident – was it Bloomfield?)
Embellishment (1879 - a mounted infantryman, memoirs – he is named as McDonald; 1879 – a man kicked by his horse, memoirs – he is a commissariat officer named Hamer (was this Hamer; not by his own account).
If I said something had been dealt with before it was because it had been and I saw no point in repeating statements already made.
Re your comparisons between Symons and myself, I am afraid there is a difference. Symons is not a primary source; and he was quoting survivors without naming or acknowledging them. Therefore we do not know where they were on the battlefield and what they experienced and how their comments to Symons apply. All that we know is that Symons’s comments are contradicted by those who survived from all areas of the front and the camp. He MAY have spoken to Essex, Smith-Dorrien, and Curling but he MAY have spoken to Brickhill, Edwards and Eaton. He may even have spoken to men who claimed they were there. Their identities are important. Unattributable and unattributed primary sources cannot be relied upon for accuracy.
I am not a primary source but I am quoting named attributed primary sources.
Symons is a secondary source; I am not. I have used both primary and secondary sources.
Should my view carry any greater weight than Symons, considering the similarities in knowledge retrieval? I would argue yes in specifics because (1) the knowledge retrieval is totally dissimilar and (2) I have available all the known accounts of Britons, colonials, Natal natives and Zulus; he had not. I’m willing to take the risk in making that statement. That’s one of the risks of being an historian.
You wrote “Essex mentions low ammunition, although he obtained more the inference is that they had nearly expended their ammunition by the time of the retire down the hill.”
There is no such inference in Essex’s account or anyone else’s.
You referred to Kambula’s account where after having received a re-supply from Henderson/Davies, he retires with his troop and then goes in search of more ammo (he doesn’t find any and decides at this point to gallop off). You neglect to mention that the Europeans with Durnford remained and continue to fire away. According to the Zulus (after the departure of the Native Horse) they fired away for quite some time until they eventually ran out of ammunition.
You wrote “ammunition is unscrewed and placed closer to the firing line in subsequent battles points to recognition of previous failings”. Don’t you mean the firing line was closer to the HQ in subsequent battles in order not to protect valueless real estate? And how do you infer that ammo is “unscrewed” – how do you know that this wasn’t the case at Isandhlwana? There was no redesign of the ammo box for the remainder of the Zulu War. The next alteration occurred in Nov 1879 post bellum.
My post of 19th May stating that "43 survivors left 115 accounts, some left several , they do not mention ammo failure". I was referring to accounts of the battle (including S-D’s later one). I was not referring to S-D’s subsequent comments in his memoirs which are separate from the account of the fight. If I include subsequent comments of this nature from others then no-one else mentions ammo failure.
You wrote “your post of 17thmay, ref ammunition boxes,
’their was no delay in opening boxes.none is mentioned by anyone anywhere at isandlwhana’
horace smith dorrien disagrees with you,he is quite clear in stating the problems he,(a witness,a primary source )had with them.” As stated above S-D makes no mention of problems opening boxes, or supplying the line in his 1879 accounts. His memoirs disagree with his earlier self. Is this more evidence of unreliability?
Your comments re Bickley are misconstrued. Bickley witnessed men engaged in their ammo supply duties as ammo carriers; he does NOT witness an ammo shortage. He does not witness a problem. He witnesses a smooth operation and a solution such that the Zulus’ testimonies after the battle are UNANIMOUS in stating that the 24th were still laying down a heavy fire when the line collapsed.
Patronising? As I said, it did seem patronising. And as I said, I didn’t mean it to be. No, I didn’t want to change it, at the time I meant it. Go back to the primary sources and read them.
Finally, you wrote “i mean i am in good company,penn symons,horace smith dorrien and me.”
So, what have we got?
Symons, a man whose report contradicts the surviving participants’ accounts... a man who does not acknowledge his sources…and a man whose ulterior motive in writing the report is not known (I admit, I don’t know the reasons for it, but neither do you) – perhaps he was ‘bought’?
Smith-Dorrien, a man whose account in later life contradicts the accounts made within days of the event itself….
And you, a man expressing opinions which he is unable to endorse by quoting primary sources because he (admittedly) has not read them…
Perhaps you are in good company.
David 5th
“Bought”? My word, what a suspicious man you are! It may be for you, but it’s not the norm to ‘buy’ people where I come. I’ve never ‘bought’ anyone in my life. I have no need to.
I don’t see how Steve’s questions on Durnford were thought-provoking. He doesn’t seem to have mentioned him in that posting bar once (and that wasn't provicative). Perhaps there you go again, not choosing your words correctly, and I’ve misunderstood.
Regarding your comments on Durnford, I totally agree. So that when you write “Perhaps thas another of differences between you and I.As far as I and many others I suspect feel…” you can count me in as one of the others. And yes, I also believe he died a hero’s death. And so, you see, we’re not so very different after all, except perhaps in the manner of expressing ourselves.
Please do not presume to know what I think.
Melvin 6th
Re the reformed line read the accounts of Mehlokazulu, Uguku, the uMbonambi warrior, the uNokhenkhe deserter, Williams, Curling, Malindi and Erskine.
Melvin 7th
Yes, it would be easy to make a tart remark by way of reply. But the reason I don’t and others do is the same. It’s the way we were brought up.
It doesn’t bother me too much. Such remarks are quite amateur beside some of the academic shreddings I’ve witnessed.
Whatever else Durnford was, he was a brave man. He could have escaped if he’d wanted to but he didn’t and he must have been pretty sure at that stage of the outcome of the decision.
David 7th
Yes, I can stand up for myself. But I shouldn’t have to. We’re all supposed to self-regulate.
I agree with your comments re Durnford and I don’t think he panicked despite Henderson’s remarks.
Keith 7th
Henderson’s remarks are strange in that he alone makes these remarks on the 22nd in contradistinction to other surviving African and European NNH survivors – one wonders whether at some stage Durnford criticized Henderson (comments which Henderson knew would get back to his father) and the remarks he made subsequently in a letter to his father constituted some sort of ‘defence’ or ‘revenge’. This is merely supposition on my part. But the comments seem strangely out of kilter.

10th June 2004Keith Smith

Your hypothesis concerning Henderson is very interesting. However, I wonder if a more likely scenario is that he and Charlie Raw swapped yarns: Raw was with Durnford at the Bushman's river pass. The other point is that Henderson's comments are in a private letter to his father and were not meant for publication. We do not know whether or not others, including Raw, held similar views about Durnford.

Let me hasten to assure you, and other readers, that I do not doubt for a moment that Durnford was as brave as a lion, but he did have a propensity for being impetuous, sufficient to require upbraiding by Chelmsford. His reaction to Chelmsford's censure is also recorded and was perhaps the talk of the mess in succeeding days. I wonder, then, if he was indeed rather reckless when in the thick of action.
10th June 2004steve
received a copy of hsd memoirs 48yrs etc.
prior to my last post,and yes,ive read it.
hasnt changed my opinion yet,allthough i will be reading it several times,
read zulu by ian knight several times,also saw the documentry with ian breaking open ammunition boxes at isandlwhana,with the butt of a martini henry,excellent book,good tv,
particularly the screws they found which were of the same type used in the securing panel of the ammunition boxes,and appeared to be bent at a 90deg angle,suggesting that they werent fully unscrewed,more likely that the boxes were broken haste,and possibly as ian knight suggested,with the butt of a rifle.
still,bent screws does rather suggest no screwdriver,and urgency,rather than calm
smooth resupply...............

Also read books by donald featherstone,frank emery,arthur conan doyle,melton prior, g.a.henty,and the arch villian of your peace donald morris(who incidently quite clearly claims no academic status for his work)seen the movies and zulu wars documentry video,had an in depth look at several excellent websites,and some very interesting documents emailed me by other contributors(many thanks once again chaps)
and to steal your tendency to similie for a moment(martians)

if i bang my head against a wall ten times,i cannot state my opinion that it hurts,only when i have banged my head 40 times will my opinion be considered.................

nice story about your grandad,i would ask mine but hes still holding his ground at dunkirk,but my other grandad remained lucid and full of tales at 82 despite the silver plate in his skull courtesy of a german paras rifle butt at monte casino,and my dad still remembers being regailed by my great grandad re his service in german east africa,or so i am led to believe........i suppose
good memory is in our genes.

i fully accept your point re bickley.

i fully appreciate your point re your busy schedule and finding time to go over ground you have previously covered,but thank you for doing so anyway.

the wagon laagering was not the point i was drawing attention to,it was the second part of that quoted sentence which was relevent to this thread on the "myth of ammunition failure at isandlwhana"
you appear to have misconstrued the point i was making,twice.

essex and low ammunition,he mentions as we have allready seen,gathering camp casuals etc and going for more ,at this time he is with mostyn and cavaye.........its really a case of splitting hairs
what is the difference between essex saying
mostyn and cavaye are low on ammunition, and the inference drawn by me that their ammunition was nearly expended..........5 perhaps 10 rounds...........they started with 70 they fire for a while,perhaps an hour maybe a little more,retire down the hill,to take up a new position.
they have an hour and a bit and 70 rounds,and all the targets they could possibly need.
is it at all possible that by the time they were at the bottom of the hill they only had ten or 15 rounds left,of course it is,and as it is the lesser part of their total issue ,nearly expended isnt too blasphemous really.

hsd,kambula etc
The primary sources words i quoted were correct as you well know.

smith dorrien and his memory,i must admit he sounds a very suspect chap now you have pointed it out to me,makes me wonder why they promoted him to general,and sent him to
mons to mess about.

penn symons ,"ulterior motive"does their have to be such a thing,couldnt it just be a case of he wrote what he heard,warts and all?

re your post 19th may,thankyou for clarifying.

so now ive read hsd,and had a look at extracts of penn symmons,re-read ian knight, thrown donald morris in the bin,do i still believe their was an ammunition problem?
because several"witnesses"mention ammunition in respect of their part of the battle,and other factors previously discussed.
you can dress a chicken like a duck,its still a chicken.
did ammunition decide the battle?
no........only one of a series of factors.
regards to all

10th June 2004Bill Cainan

What an absolutely enthralling thread this has been - thanks to Marc Jung for kicking it off.

Both "sides" have argued their points succinctly, supported by relevant sources. For those of us avidly following the debate, the mass of information and knowledge has been just overwhelming. Especial thanks must go to Julian, Keith, Ron, Peter, Mike etc for their use and intepretation of primary sources.

I suspect now that the subject has probably been flogged to death and further contributions will be merely repeating earlier contributions. Undoubtedly, some will remain entrenched in their opinions while others may well have changed their views. Either way we have been priveleged to witness a remarkable debate which I'm sure, has given us all food for thought.

I believe Julian deserves a big thank you for the amount of time he has devoted to this thread - perhaps now he can get on with the rest of his life !!

Gentlemen, thank you all.


10th June 2004Julian Whybra
Thanks Bill, I agree, i've enjoyed it too, warts and all!
Steve - a few minor points - screws can also be bent by Zulus (who've never seen a screwdriver) opening ammo boxes; and Mostyn and Cavaye 70 rounds or 100 (and will that start a separate debate?) and i imaging when they were down to about 30 rounds more ammo would have been sought. Never 5 - that would be too late! finally, READ the primary sources.
10th June 2004steve
i agree and echo your thanks,to all.
yes i suppose zulus could bend screws at 90deg,does sound rather improbable though
doesnt it?
particularly as ian knight offers such a plausible explanation.
i accept 30 rounds,which still means they fired the majority,then we have essex and the mules,which was a thread within a thread, etc etc....

finally,yes i will,READ more primary sources,
does this now mean i can dispense with my intention to purchase books by ron,peter, yourself and others?
darn it hill of the sphinx arrived this morning as well...............
regards to all.

10th June 2004David Alan Gardner
Just wondering one question before this is finally wound up.
There has been much said about Smith-Dorrien and Essex.Was there bad blood between them?-can anyone say?
(this would be relevant to the thread)
It's just that I think S-D makes a ref to his boss in his memoirs ,who leaves a wagon in a donga which is subsequently washed away. It's obvious he doesn't think much of the chap who remains nameless.Is this Essex?-if so could be significant.
10th June 2004steve
hsd and essex....its something that also intrigued me,and it was touched on earlier in the hsd the officer essex sent out?,if so i asked why didnt they name each other,(victorian military etiqutte) my other thought was about them both being at the same ammo wagon,hsd earlier than essex
etc etc..........then penn symons re essex,
then julian said essex at qm pullens 1/24 wagon,whereas essex says hes at qm bloomfields wagon,poor chap actually gets shot in front of him.
so essex in the end was an ok chap.

what page in the memoirs david,as i would like to read that part myself?

11th June 2004David Alan Gardner
Thanks for that-actually HSD was referring to a cavalry captain- unamed who cocked up and lost cattle.There was another officer he referred to who was a friend in transport, but got transferred to an irregular mounted unit.
So it wasn't Essex.It's all on the site you earlier highlighted.
Thanks for your info on the threads,- similarly, I've more reading to do. Also in common with you I feel the same re the ammo/fire rate question.
11th June 2004Rob Oats
I am a great nephew of one of the Natal Volunteers killed at the Battle of Isandlawana. Eldest brother of my grandmother, one Fred Jackson aged 16yrs and he may be the drummer boy mentioned above. I have visited to battle site having lived in Pietermaritzburg for 20 years.
There must be something to this theory on ammunition shortage because this is the version given to my great-grandfather when he was informed of his son's death. The stated reason was that tools were not supplied to open the ammunition cases and the troops were trying to force them open with bayonets. Whether this was a story to side step the rank incompetence of the officers who knows. The fact is British forces were never very sucessful between 1850 to 1900. They took several beatings from vastly smaller forces during the Anglo Boer War.
The distance part is almost certainly a factor. Fred was killed on the British right flank which is a good 1000 yds from where the camp was and also some good distance below. Anyone attempting to replenish supplies would have been a very exhausted person. The daily temperature in January would have been in the mid 30C.
The terrain is also unbelieveable. The side of that koppie is just stone and hence they never even attempted to bury the remains.
My visit to Isandlawana will stay with me forever. The sheer atmosphere of the place of almost overwhelming and spookie. There are no animals and no birds in the area of the battle and the site was pervaded by the gentle moan of the wind as it passed through the grass.
11th June 2004Rob Oats
I am a great nephew of one of the Natal Volunteers killed at the Battle of Isandlawana. Eldest brother of my grandmother, one Fred Jackson aged 16yrs and he may be the drummer boy mentioned above. I have visited to battle site having lived in Pietermaritzburg for 20 years.
There must be something to this theory on ammunition shortage because this is the version given to my great-grandfather when he was informed of his son's death. The stated reason was that tools were not supplied to open the ammunition cases and the troops were trying to force them open with bayonets. Whether this was a story to side step the rank incompetence of the officers who knows. The fact is British forces were never very sucessful between 1850 to 1900. They took several beatings from vastly smaller forces during the Anglo Boer War.
The distance part is almost certainly a factor. Fred was killed on the British right flank which is a good 1000 yds from where the camp was and also some good distance below. Anyone attempting to replenish supplies would have been a very exhausted person. The daily temperature in January would have been in the mid 30C.
The terrain is also unbelieveable. The side of that koppie is just stone and hence they never even attempted to bury the remains.
My visit to Isandlawana will stay with me forever. The sheer atmosphere of the place of almost overwhelming and spookie. There are no animals and no birds in the area of the battle and the site was pervaded by the gentle moan of the wind as it passed through the grass.
11th June 2004steve
many thanks for clarifying.
nice to see someone agree with something ive said,because for a while their i felt like rita in educating rita.......................

nice story,just interested to know whether the authorities at that time put anything in writing to your great grandfather?
regards to all
11th June 2004Rob Oats
I doubt very much that anything was ever put in writing. One has to put things very much in perspective. Pietermaritzburg was a very small community at that time and I am sure that most people knew what was going on as all supplies were moving through the town. My g-grandfather had a canvas products business there and I am sure was very involved with military personel supplying canvas products to the army.
Looking at the campaign from a British perspective I am sure that they regarded the whole thing as a joke after all they were a modern army with high power rifles and well drilled professional troops coming up against a mob of part time soldiers armed with spears. Why would they have prepared for such a well planned and executed offensive?
My own personal opinion is that the whole thing was a disaster. They were ill prepared badly commanded and had not carried out proper intell on the enemy. Heads should have rolled. It was Disraeli ?? that did the big cover up and was highly embarrassed and if I remember destroyed Chelmsford's military ambitions.
14th June 2004David Aln Gardner
I think there is more than me who agrees with a lot of what you say.

Nice story. As regards Disraeli,I think he also helped end Chelmford's fathers
political career so I don't imagine he'd be too
predisposed to the 2nd Baron either.
20th June 2004Julian Whybra
Well, I’ve had a break for a few days and see there are a few more interesting comments made.
Steve 10th
There’s nothing improbable about the Zulus forcing open ammo boxes with whatever was to hand (assegais, bayonets, etc) and indeed would be the most likely cause of a right-angled screw find, certainly not from soldiers. The Zulu accounts say they looted the camp after all – do you expect them not have bothered with the ammo boxes because they’d never seen a screwdriver before?
Enjoy Hill of the Sphinx.
David 10th
I’m not aware of any bad blood between them nor that they even knew one another particularly well, if at all, before Isandhlwana.
Rob 11th
Fred Jackson was certainly not the drummer boy mentioned before as it was a 24th boy set to guard the waggon. Fred was a Natal Carbineer (was he any relation to Robert Jackson also kia?) and the Carbineers’ ammo supply organisation was completely different to that of the professional soldiers. With only a few of them left in camp and mostly used as scouts the arrangement is likely to have been very informal and can serve as no basis for arguments about the nature of the regulars’ supply.
The same sadly is true about the version given to your great-grandfather. Who told him this story – do you know? A survivor? A Chinese whisper? There were lots of rumours flying around Natal post-Isandhlwana (read the papers from the time) one of which was that the battalion didn’t have screwdrivers, all scotched (read all the above for the details). And as you yourself say this may well have been a story to cover up another reason….
Also you are correct in stating that Fred was killed on the right flank but not that he was 1000 yards from camp. The camp extended south of the road (indeed the 1st bn ammo waggon was there too) and the Mtd Men’s camp the first site north of it. He would actually have been quite close to the camp on the site of Durnford’s last stand.
David 14th
Persuader words and spin do not determine history, fortunately, as we have seen recently in England. No doubt the debate will continue in the future.
20th June 2004steve
welcome back,hope you enjoyed your break, and yes i am thoroughlly enjoying hots,(i dont think i will abbreviate that) hill of the sphinx.
i understand what you say,and would agree that zulus would not have left full boxes
of ammunition,and never having seen screwdrivers(assumption by me) that the boxes would have been broken open.
conversely it cannot be discounted that some were broken open, in the manner described by hsd,
i also ponder essexs mule cart,(not essex this time)the boxes were loaded and delivered along the line.
were these boxes unscrewed by essex ,the qm and casuals prior to delivery,or unscrewed by the soldiers on the line.............
or a combination of both,my point being if they were delivered still screwed down ,then
the bent screws some found i believe some distance from the camp,could be attributed to the soldiers their haste,and the lack of a screwdriver,hence ammunition problem.

if they were allready unscrewed by essex and the qm and others, why bent screws,zulu or otherwise.

if the zulu opened these boxes along the line it confirms they werent opened prior to the end of the fight,if the soldiers opened them it confirms haste,and no screwdriver,and as for the bent screws in the camp couldnt this be confirmation of hsd ,as well as zulu looting.
obviously after the battle a portion would have been broken by the zulu,even carried away,and this is one of the questions i had in an earlier post,re was ammunition recovered later.
one last question julian,the zulu seem to have been quite forthcoming in their views after the battle to various europeans,did any of them ever make specific mention of the boxes and ammunition retreival?
best regards

21st June 2004David Alan Gardner
Thats where your wrong. History has a tendency to be written by the victor, especially in recent times-"persuader words and spin" -as you put it are part of that process.
21st June 2004Rob Oats
Fred was the son of Robert Warrington Jackson, my g-grandfather and after whom I am named. I am not not totally sure who told him about the problems with the ammunition cases. Having been involved in war situations within in small communities myself the truth often comes out over a few bears. I know this factor has come down the family. You are correct, Fred was a Natal Carbineer.
24th June 2004Bill Cainan
I have just received a copy of the "Treatise on Military Carriages and Other Manufactures of the Royal Carriage department" printed in October 1876 and reprinted by D.P & G Military Publishers of Doncaster this year.

On Page 84 is a picture and description of the two wheeled Mark 1 small arm ammunition cart. It was designed to carry 16 boxes of Martini-Henry ammunition (at 600 rounds each). A total of 9,600 rounds per cart. It confirms that these carriages were peculiar to the line.

There are also descriptions of the Waggons GS Mark 1 to IV each of which could carry 30 cwts.

2nd July 2004Julian whybra
Steve 20th
S-D’s reference to “breaking open boxes” may simply be a euphemism. The term was used in the C19 simply to mean “open” rather than a literal meaning. I once had a friend who used to speak of “cracking open” a bottle of wine in a similar way.
I strongly suspect that the boxes were opened at source (ie at the ammo waggons) but with the foil intact and the sliding panel in situ to prevent spillage en route. Only some of the boxes would be thus loosened and held in readiness for use. All the descriptions I have relate to such a procedure, hence my belief that they were opened by the Zulus after the battle.
I am speaking here of boxes looted and being taken away by Zulus and therefore not unscrewed previously.
Yes, several Zulus mentioned the looting of the camp and ammo in particular. I don’t hold their names in my memory but I recall they were in the James Stuart Archive.
Bill 24th
Many thanks for this very useful information which I was not aware of – 16 boxes per cart.
2nd July 2004steve
thanks julian for your reply.
i appreciate the possibility of hsd using a euphimism,perhaps ,it was as you say.

my thoughts were drawn to his report and the context in which he made the statement on boxes,and in that ,perhaps his intention was to be taken literally.
however as you have rightly pointed out,his memoirs were written much later.
3rd July 2004Julian Whybra
Steve 20th
Sorry I realized I left out part of my reply. As for your conundrum about the boxes being screwed-unscrewed and their position, it is based entirely on the assumption that the right-angled screw recently found was one of the locking screws from the central sliding panel. It could of course have been one of the many other screws holding the copper bands in place around the box. A Zulu ‘breaking open’ (literally) a box on the line would not have known of sliding panels but might have tried to prize the bands over the screwheads (something a soldier would not have bothered with). This might easily have caused a screw to bend at right angles. Interestingly enough DR Morris found a copper band on the battlefield some 40 years ago which had been prized over screwheads.
8th July 2004Neil Aspinsahw
Missed out on all the fun as my internet crashed. Oh what have I missed!
One last note on your comment about the copper bands. The recent archeoligical work has found the locals were stripping the copper bands from the boxes, cutting them into 50mm strips and re-casting the copper. Perhaps in the absence of screw drivers prizing off the bands is the only way.
At last years RAM lectures Tony Pollard showed the evidence of this on the slide show.
I think the bands would simply snap or rip over the screw head if the were being prized off, as the brass screw would be harder than the copper. No, I would only expect the brass (article 31) screw (bet you didn't know I am a woodscrew expert) to bend once due to levering the boxes apart or bending when the sliding lid would be impacted.
p.s Was this the best debate so far?
8th July 2004Ron Lock
Rob Oats - I believe you live in Pmb.? If so we are almost neighbours and I would like to contact you for a chat. My telephone number is 031 7657048. Look forward to hearing from you. Ron.
8th July 2004steve
julian 3rd july.
i appreciate that their were several screws per box,and that the screw in question could have been any other fixing than the one that held the sliding panel.
i am not sure julian whether you managed to catch the informative(for me )documentary which had ian knight hitting a boxes sliding panel with the butt of a martini henry.
the panel split,came away,from around its securing screw.
The screw remained in situ,but bent at a 90 degree angle,the similarity between the result of damage to the screw,and the battlefield recovered one are too similar not to be weighed as positive reconstructive
i can understand a zulu attacking the box with an assegai,copper band first,entire lid second ,sliding panel third,but its much more likely that the 24th lads used their initiative
to free up the ammunition,if you dont have a screwdriver use a birmingham screwdriver.

ref the brass csk slotted head screws .
its interesting that any diy buff will know that
when removing this type of screw from old door hinges etc,the screwdriver being steel tends to chew the head of the softer screw,
its happened to me,and your left with two options, drill it out ,or lever it out.............

you also set me thinking as to why they used brass screws ?
theirs the obvious,they dont rust,but i would also add that brass doesnt spark.
i had to chuckle re your woodscrew expert
quip .......truth is i was , also sold brass hammers to gas fitters for a while...................

regards to all

9th July 2004Julian Whybra
Steve 8th
I have no information as to the accuracy of the reconstructed box that Ian Knight used. I am aware that it has been pooh-poohed by other as inaccurate. Probably Ron Lock knows something about Ian's construction capabilities.
9th July 2004steve
a good point........
was ian knights reconstructed box accurate?

over to you,any thoughts re julians point.
regards to all
9th July 2004Neil Aspinshaw
knowing my screws, well I used be a screw buyer!, (I worked for a firm that supllied 1.5 million a month to the upholstery industry).
Brass screws, would quite rightly offer maximium corrosion resistance. plus as they were machine turned at manufacture were soft enough to give deep thread on a smaller core. The chances were they were also dry waxed or dipped into butter to form a lubricant when driving in ( a trick still used today in the upholstery chair frame manufacture) . As the boxes were mahogany which is extremely hard this would have prevented the heads shearing.
The brass of the 1870's would be high zinc content,(alpha brass) testimony to this is the fact that the screws still survive on the battlefield after 125 years.
If you look at the ten bob door handles at B & Q they are very "orangey", therefore a high copper content, typical of indian or far eastern brass.
I used to have a very old nettlefold catalogue, (1884 I think?) which showed all the screw types available. Could this be classed as being sad?.


happy screwing


10th July 2004steve
you never cease to amaze me........your wealth of knowledge is surpassed only by your good humour.............
i bow to your knowledge, being only a gkn lad
of whom nettlefolds were part of..........

brings to mind the old ironmongery joke about a madman who attacks two ladies in a launderette,before absconding........alltogether now.......nut screws washers and bolts.......

seriously,i didnt so much ponder the heads shearing as the slot in the head becoming enlarged due to the twisting action of the hardened screwdriver blade.
its difficult to avoid with a steady hand,when hanging doors for the wife on a sunday morn,
so i would assume even more so under the
progressively worsening conditions during the battle............and thus the breaking open of
boxes reported by hsd ,and the "possible" bent screw(s) found on the battlefield may point to frantic efforts to release cartridges
from their boxes.
i have a brother in law who is a metallurgist and if an original screw comes my way ,i shall certainly ask him to get cracking.
best regards to all
11th July 2004Ron Lock
Having been asked the question, I have just played "Secrets of the Dead" again and it appears to me, as it did previously, that two distinctly different ammunition boxes were used: first a genuine hard wood box, complete with copper strapping bands and inner metal liner. Then, as the moment comes for Ian to open the box, it is clear that the genuine one has been substituted . Understandable; people can't go bashing about relics belonging, most likely, to the local museum. However, it is a pity that the susubstitution and the reason for it, was not explained, thus the unobservant and gullible viewer is left in the belief that a genuine box is about to receive the butt end of a Martini Henry rifle.

Being a D.I.Y. man I have no hesitation in suggesting that the substitute box was made of S.A.pine , or some other soft wood - the lid certainly was. As Ian's blow, which can be described as not much more than a knock, falls, the lid comes apart to reveal it to be two separate sections of tongue and groove pine planking. The screw, having been hit in passing, seems slightly bent.

Ian's blow was, in fact, mistakenly delivered to the screw end of the lid, whereas had it been a genuine box with a wedge shaped lid, any blow would need to have been delivered to the opposite end. In reality the actual bending of the screw came about by the screw, after numerous blows at the opposite end of the lid, bursting through the tough mahogany planking of the front panel - not by being hit with a rifle butt as the butt and the screw would never have made contact. Ron.
11th July 2004steve
hope you dont mind me butting in,while you await julians reply........
i must admit i thought that ian knights reconstruction looked impressive,like you i have just replayed secrets of the dead........
and i see what you mean about the box,and panel...........(ouch....)
i see i may have been mistaken in putting too much faith in ian knights reconstruction, i
must say that i thought swamis and snakecharmers were confined to kipling.....

julian was right to steer clear of commenting on the reconstructive method or materials.

perhaps ian could have chance to reply ?
as the points you have justifiably raised merit an answer.............well ian........

if indeed the materials used in the tv program were knowingly of a lesser quality , just to prove a point, its do it where brave mens blood soaked the ground is much worse................

earlier in this thread ron,you mentioned reconstructing a box,near as original as one can possibly get,and using it as a test bed ,
is that something you still intend ?


12th July 2004Bill Cainan

There is a MkIV Ammunition Box on sale now on ebay. With four days to go the price is currently standing at $720. It is available only to customers in the US. Perhaps one of our American readers (who has a MH rifle) would like to buy it and give it the definitive test ?

13th July 2004Julian Whybra
I don't think that Ian knight was attempting to replicate the swift opening of an ammo box using the method described by contemporaries. It didn't seem a well-aimed blow. I think he was just trying to smash open a reconstructed box with the butt end of a rifle. I don't really feel this proved anything apart from the poor quality of local RSA wooden box manufacture.
I'm afraid I still don't find this at all relevant. It conflicts with statements at the time. It is pure conjecture that the vast majority of boxes weren't already opened at the time. And there are still too many assumptions that the troops at the front line ran out of ammunition casuing the Zulus to charge home against a line unable to fire - assumptions for which there is no evidence (even the latest survivor's account I've come across from one who was with Durnford says that when he made his way to RD he still had ammunition left ie had not run out.
14th July 2004steve
i cant really see the point of ian knights reconstruction,unless it was to leave the viewer with the impression that it was an easy action to accomplish.
this would negate any problem with following.
1/lack of screwdrivers
2/supply breaking down,because one or more qms dead,agreed qm dead would not have stopped supply,but it would not have aided smoothe resupply.
3/ even if the ammo boxes were delivered to the line,via mulecarts,unopened,it was shown to be relatively simple to open them.(on tv)

or,was it to show the reason for the existence of the bent screw(s) found during filming.
as you have pointed out zulus could have done that ,but that would then intimate that the boxes were unopened by the 24th.

i have enough respect for the evidence allready provided that many of the boxes were pre opened prior to delivery,it is only when the situation deteriorates that people go off looking,or hsd starts breaking boxes.
its bad enough holding a very thin red line with 2 to 3 yards between each man,when ammunition isnt a problem,but,2 or 3 minutes when cetain sections of the fire slackens is enough to encourage the zulu to stand and charge.............

i understand that a request for additional screwdrivers for the qms prior to invasion went unfulfilled,however i am not sure on that and would bow to someones greater knowledge.......i hasten to add that i do not think it would have made a great deal of difference to the outcome.............

the edendale men also had enough ammunition left to partially cover the fugitives,
but its the 24th companies whose rate of fire would have been greater,who covered most ground,who were furthest from their resupply,who are the key...........and they cant talk......but maybe a couple of bent screws,and those that handed out packets from broken boxes can.

they didnt need to be out of ammunition completely to encourage the zulu to charge, a husbanding of the last few rounds would have translated into a lesser fire rate.

i have e mailed ian knight to kindly ask for his comments on the construction and material of the box in secrets of the dead.
15th July 2004Ron Lock
I disagree. As Ian was about to strike the box he remarked " well, here goes my reputation", or words to that effect and once the lid had been opened by his single blow, addes something like, "Well, that has laid to rest a hoary old myth about the battle".
Lets hear what Ian has to say.
As to your observation that the experiment proved nothing "... apart from the poor quality of local RSA wooden box manufacture", well, I am astounded! Let me assure you the Republic of South Africa has no such industry. The replica box was more than likely made to specification and quality, under the direction of the BBC film unit, either by one of their props men, or by a local 'fundi'.
Steve and Bill: Regarding constructing a box and putting it to the test. Peter and I would now only consider doing this if some learned panel were involved and the test properly conducted, supervised and the results, whataaever they happent to be, published in an independant journal of standing.
15th July 2004steve
ian knight is in south africa at the moment, adrian greaves has kindly responded that my email has been forwarded to him.
16th July 2004Neil Aspinshaw
Surely it cannot be to difficult to have a box made up in mahogany and try it.
Do we know what happened to ammo boxes after emptying, Isandlwana aside. After the tin lining had been removed, were the boxes expected to be returned for re-filling or just discarded?. The construction would make it difficult to open up the full top panel, as the copper bands would need fully replacing.
If they were for being discarded, who would give a damn how they opened them? with or without screwdrivers, even without the time pressure.

Cheers... its back to my knobs and knockers again.

19th July 2004David Alan Gardner
Hello again, I've been off busy working.I see this is still going, but you are asking all the right questions mate.
I think your right about the men not having to be out of ammo, the fire volume they provided given their dispositions simply wasn't enough on the day and they were overwhelmed.
Simple as that.
Regards to you
20th July 2004steve
hi david
welcome back,youre missing all the fun.

i took time out the other day to read the entire thread again,and the weight of factual evidence doesnt support the lack of ammo,
but their are at least 9 good points which i dont think have been satisfactorily explained away which suggests otherwise..and so for me at least my opinion is unchanged,allthough
the food for thought supplied by everyone is rations for a regiment for a year........
best regards
21st July 2004Juian Whybra
Ron, my RSA box manufacture remark was flippantly intended. Sincere apologies to all those with shares in the RSA wood industry. I assure you my marital bed which has served us well for 23 years is made of sturdy South African pine.
21st July 2004David Gardner
Yes my opinion unchanged as well. Most of the arguments one way could be effectively countered another.

You've read more than me on the subject which requires one hell of a lot of time resources which I don't have right now.

The ammo box debate with Ron seems interesting!
23rd July 2004steve
yeah i agree,the ammo box question is interesting,no word back from ian knight yet either,allthough i appreciate hes busy.
i think ron has his finger on the pulse of the reconstruction for tv in secrets of the dead, perhaps "artistic license" for joe public.
interesting as well that no one seems to want to take up the offer from ron , to correctly reconstruct and then break open, personally i think this a valid experiment,so why the lack of interest ......?
like you david i beleive it wouldnt have affected the overall outcome,but it may have affected the fire rate,and hence may have been a factor.

the other thing is david,you give me too much credit,i doubt whether my knowledge on the subject is greater than yours,and there are some really great web sites now regarding the azw,which makes it a bit easier for a web geek like me.............still it is good fun.
anyway i think we would have taken the honours if it wasnt for that chap julian and his damned primary source factual evidence, still looking................particularly about essex.

re your ownership of south african pine, do be carefull some historical chap doesnt jump up and hit it with his martini henry,stating,
"theirs another miss laid to rest"
(appologies couldnt resist it)